How an Alcoholic Mother Affects Her Children
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Treatment options are available and can help children overcome the negative effects of growing up with an alcoholic mother.
When a mother has an alcohol use disorder, the clinical term for alcohol addiction, alcohol misuse can negatively affect her children in several ways. Children’s needs may fall by the wayside as alcohol becomes the priority. Fortunately, treatment is available to help mothers overcome alcohol addiction and be more present with their children.
What Is It Like Having an Alcoholic Mother?
No two people or families will experience the same effects from alcohol misuse. However, some common behaviors are associated with alcohol addiction, which can negatively impact family functioning.
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Hiding Drinking Behaviors
A mother struggling with alcohol misuse may attempt to hide her drinking behaviors. Studies have shown that people with addictions may lie about their behavior because they fear negative judgment. Therefore, a mother addicted to alcohol may try to drink privately, away from her children.
Financial problems are also common in families affected by alcohol addiction. A person with an alcohol use disorder may be unable to maintain a job or experience legal issues. Between lost wages, court fees and money spent on alcohol, financial troubles can plague the family.
Child Neglect and Abuse
While not every parent who misuses alcohol will abuse or neglect their children, alcohol misuse can negatively affect parenting and increase the risk of child maltreatment (abuse or neglect). For instance, a parent addicted to alcohol may spend significant amounts of time drinking or recovering from the effects of alcohol, leading to neglect of children’s basic needs.
Drinking While Pregnant
Drinking during pregnancy, especially in large amounts, can lead to fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs), an umbrella term that describes children exposed to alcohol during a mother’s pregnancy. Because of the risk of FASDs, no amount of alcohol consumption during pregnancy is considered safe. Children with FASDs experience a range of negative outcomes from alcohol exposure, including:
- Low body weight
- Attention problems
- Learning problems
- Speech delays
- Small head size
- Organ problems
- Difficulty with judgment and decision-making
Risks for Children of Alcoholic Mothers in Adulthood
Unfortunately, the risks of having a mother who misuses alcohol can extend into adulthood. Research has found that children whose parents misuse alcohol are at risk of several negative outcomes by the time they reach teen to young adult years. These include:
- Increased risk of premature death
- Suicide attempts
- Drug addiction
- Hospitalization due to violence
- Teen pregnancy
Adults affected by FASDs face similar and sometimes additional risks, such as:
- Increased likelihood of receiving disability payments
- Being hospitalized for alcohol use disorder or psychiatric conditions
- Requiring prescription medication for psychiatric conditions
Effects of an Alcoholic Mother on Children
The negative effects of having a mother who misuses alcohol can extend well into adulthood. In addition, children may experience more immediate consequences as they grow and develop.
Trouble Forming Healthy Relationships
Studies show that the unpredictable and sometimes chaotic home environments in families where a mother drinks excessively alcohol can interfere with social skills development in children. This can lead to difficulty in forming healthy relationships. More specifically, children with alcohol-addicted parents may fear attaching to others, preventing them from bonding with other people.
The negative effects of maternal alcohol addiction can make it more difficult for children to regulate or manage emotions. In fact, children of alcohol-addicted mothers are more likely to demonstrate aggressive behavior and poor self-regulation. Since the ability to regulate emotions is often learned by observing parents, children with a mother who misuses alcohol may not have appropriate models of emotional regulation.
Similar to emotional dysregulation, exposure to parental alcohol misuse can lead to impulsivity. This can pave the way for risky behaviors like unprotected sex, unsafe driving and drug/alcohol misuse. Impulsivity can also increase the risk of suicidal behavior.
Because mothers who misuse alcohol may not be as nurturing and emotionally present as non-addicted mothers, their children can develop low self-esteem. Children may feel as if they are unlovable or unworthy of love or attention, ultimately leading to feelings of low self-worth. Low self-esteem can also result from abuse and turmoil within the home.
Children of a mother with an alcohol use disorder may develop perfectionistic behaviors. When a mother cannot function as a parent, the children may take on adult duties, such as looking after younger siblings, caring for the house or even paying bills. Many children who grow up with an addicted parent take on the parental role themselves in a process called parentification. Parentified children set high standards for themselves and appear extremely confident, but they often expect perfection from themselves.
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AUD Treatment Options for Moms
Maternal alcohol addiction can harm children over the short and long term, but treatment can alleviate the adverse effects of alcohol addiction on the family. For mothers with alcohol addiction, treatment typically begins with a medical detox program to manage withdrawal symptoms, which can be extremely uncomfortable, and sometimes life-threatening.
After medical detox, it’s important to engage in ongoing addiction treatment, which can involve inpatient or outpatient care. People in inpatient treatment live on-site at a treatment center while undergoing rehab, whereas those in outpatient care attend appointments at a clinic while living at home. Regardless of the treatment type, most programs involve a combination of individual and group therapy, and some people may take medications to help them manage alcohol cravings.
Therapy and Support for Families of Alcoholic Mothers
For children growing up with alcohol-abusing mothers or adults with a history of exposure to maternal alcohol misuse, treatment options are available. People affected by maternal alcohol misuse may benefit from working with a counselor or therapist for individual sessions to help them process trauma and overcome mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression, that can arise in individuals who have grown up with a parent who has an alcohol addiction.
Support groups can also be beneficial for children and adults. Some addiction treatment centers may offer child-focused support groups. Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA) offers in-person and virtual support groups for those recovering from the effects of growing up with a parent addicted to alcohol.
Get Help for Alcohol Addiction
If you’re seeking alcohol addiction treatment for yourself or a loved one, The Recovery Village at Baptist Health is here to help. We have many treatment options, including medical detox, inpatient treatment, partial hospitalization programming and intensive outpatient care. Our facility features 90 beds and offers nutritious meals, relaxing lounges and indoor and outdoor amenities. Contact a Recovery Advocate today to get started.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder.” April 2023. Accessed May 11, 2023.
Farber, Barry A. “Client deception about substance use: Research findings and a case study.” Journal of Clinical Psychology, February 2020. Accessed May 11, 2023.
Patwardhan, Irina; Duppong Hurley, Kristin; Thompson, Ronald; Mason, Walter; Ringle, Jay. “Child maltreatment as a function of cumulative family risk: Findings from the intensive family preservation program.” Child Abuse & Neglect, August 2017. Accessed May 11, 2023.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Basics about FASDs.” November 4, 2022. Accessed May 11, 2023.
Nygaard Christoffersen, Mogens; Soothill, Keith. “The long-term consequences of parental alcohol abuse: a cohort study of children in Denmark.” Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, September 2023. Accessed May 11, 2023.
Rangmar, Jenny; Hjern, Anders; Vinnerljung, Bo; Stromland, Kerstin; Aronson, Martin; Fahlke, Claudia. “Psychosocial Outcomes of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in Adulthood.” Pediatrics, January 2015. Accessed May 11, 2023.
Park, Sihyun; Schepp, Karen. “A Systematic Review of Research on Children of Alcoholics: Their Inherent Resilience and Vulnerability.” Journal of Child and Family Studies, 2015. Accessed May 11, 2023.
Tedgard, Eva; Rastam, Maria; Wirtberg, Ingegerd. “An upbringing with substance-abusing parents: Experiences of parentification and dysfunctional communication.” Nordic Study on Alcohol and Drugs, 2019. Accessed May 11, 2023.