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The Effects of Parental Abuse of Alcohol on Children of Alcoholics Essay

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An estimated 6. 6 million children under the age of 18 are living with an alcohol dependent parent. These children are often subjected to a disheveled life style which affects them mentally, emotionally and physically. Researchers have examined the many ways in which this disease impacts children’s lives and if the life style or genetics of the addicted parent leads to a greater risk of dependency as the Child of the alcohol grows older. Addiction negatively affects everyone around it, especially children.

The Effects of Parental Abuse of Alcohol on Children of Alcoholics Researchers have long studied the different effects parental use and abuse of alcohol has on children.

They have used many methods of study and asked many different questions. Questions of a predisposition to alcoholism through a genetic link have been posed as well as the possibility of it being hereditary. The emotional effects parental alcoholism has on a child have been examined, reexamined and examined again.

Researchers have wondered if the child(ren) of an alcohol dependent parent is in any way physically different then the child(ren) of a non-dependent parent.

They have posed the thought that children of alcoholics (COAs) are at a greater risk for dependency to substances later in life. Researchers have suggested that inappropriate behavior is a direct result of their parent’s alcoholism, and that COAs experience a different childhood then non-COAs.

Sociological researchers have asked if the child loses its identity as “the child” and takes on a different role in the family, or if the adjustments made by the family to this addiction hinder the growth of the child as a social being. Psychological researchers have examined the possible stunts in the psychological and developmental growth that a child may encounter when placed in the position of COA. A medical researcher may look for a gene that is prevalent in the alcoholic but missing in the non-alcoholic to try an answer if the COA will have that gene and if there is a cure.

They may try and find a medical reason for the tendency for alcoholism in some and not in others. There are literally hundreds of studies, looking at hundreds of different things associated with alcoholism. Though researchers may not all look at the same question, they all want to know the same thing; Does parental alcoholism effect the child, and if so, how? Psychological Effects on the Child A COA can feel like they are all alone in a huge world, but the reality is, there are more COAs then we may think.

According to Russell, Henderson and Blume (1984), roughly 6. 6 million children 18 years of age and younger live with at least one alcoholic parent. With such a drastically high number, it is of large concern that the child of an alcoholic will suffer some form of psychological trauma due to the parent’s abuse of alcohol. Multiple studies have been done to examine how a child will fare in the home of an alcoholic. Of these studies research has found that COAs run a higher risk, then non-COAs, for emotional, cognitive and behavioral problems.

In a study titled “Children of Alcoholics: Vulnerable or Resilient? ” the researchers found that children of alcoholics (COA) are at a higher risk for depression, suicide, eating disorders, chemical dependency and teen pregnancy then non-COAs (Mylant, Ide, Cuevas, & Meehan, 2002). Further studies that have been done that compared non-COAs with COAs and found that higher levels of anxiety, general stress and depression are reported among the COA’s then the non-COAs (Schuckit & Chiles,1978; Moos & Billings, 1982; Anderson & Quast, 1983; Preweet, Spence & Chakins, 1981).

A similar study was also done by Rolf, Johnson, Israel, Baldwin and Chandra (1988); they found that COAs conveyed feelings of loss or lack of control over their environment. Their study showed that COAs, when compared to non-COAs, gave more extreme self-reports of depression. It is not uncommon to find that COAs feel guilt, anger, hatred, fear, embarrassment and loss of control due to their parent’s alcohol abuse. Along with the emotional problems COAs exhibit, they are often involved in behavioral problems including, but not limited to, lying, stealing, fighting, and misbehavior at chool (West & Prinz,1987).

The school misbehavior can be so severe that COAs are often reported by their teachers as having conduct disorders, being overactive and impulsive (Knoop, Teasdale, Schulsinger, & Goodwin, 1985; Schuckit & Chiles, 1978; Bell & Cohen; 1981, Fine, Yudin, Holmes, & Heinemann, 1976; River, 1982; Steinhausen, Gobel & Nestler, 1984; Merikangas, Weissman, Prusoff, Pauls, & Leckman, 1985; Stweard, DeBlois, & Singer, 1979) While their behavior may seem out of control to most people, it tends to be a result of the child’s lack of discipline and a cry for attention or help.

While the research is still limited, studies have found that the emotional turmoil COAs report, in most cases, will lessen or cease to exist when the alcoholic parent stops drinking, however it will return if the pattern of alcohol abuse begins again. Moos and Billings (1982) studied the emotional problems of children in relapsed alcoholic families, children in families with a recovering parent and children in families with no alcoholic parent. They found that the children in a relapse home reported higher levels of depression and anxiety then those in recovery homes and homes without an alcohol problem.

However children of relapse alcoholics have an equal emotional function level as children of a recovering alcoholic and children with no alcoholic parent. While the study finds that the emotional turmoil will lesson or cease, it is true that a lot of work must be done by the whole family to repair the damage done by alcohol. This work may include the use of a family or individual trained professional. This study does not include the children who escape alcoholic homes, either by age or other means, before the alcoholism has been resolved.

Often times, those who leave before a resolve has been met will need to seek the help of a professional to find an end to their emotional struggle. Biological and Genetic Factors It has been said often, and by many people, alcoholism runs in the family. This statement has been proven to be a true fact. Multiple studies have been done on this one topic, all finding evidence of a genetic vulnerability to alcoholism when alcoholism is prevalent in the family (Kaij, 1960; Cloninger, Bohman, & Sigvardsson,1981; Schulsinger, Hermansen, Guze & Winokur, 1973).

In other words a COA has a higher chance of becoming an alcoholic then a non-COA due to a genetic weakness they contain. This genetic vulnerability has been shown to be particularly high males when compared to females. One study found that early onset of alcoholism was more prevalent in males of an alcoholic father (fourfold more) then males of a non alcoholic father (Goodwin, 1985). While most people believe that middle school and high school age children are generally the largest risk group when it comes to addiction, it is, in-fact, another group that has topped the charts.

COAs are now being listed as the largest and highest group of children at risk for addiction to alcohol and/or drugs; this is due to the genetic factor and the family environment in which they were raised (Kempfer, 1999). While Kempfer’s study lists environment as a contributing factor in the addiction of COAs, this may be a fraction of the overall reason. In a study done by Schuckit, Goodwin and Winokur (1972) the researchers found that COAs, even when separated from the depended parent and adopted by nondependent parents, continued to have a higher risk of abuse then biological children of nondependent parents.

The increased risk is reported to be 2-9 fold greater than the average child of a nondependent parent. Nevertheless, environment cannot be ruled out entirely, two separate studies found that there was a strong connection between substance use/abuse by parents and substance use/abuse by their children. They both found that if a parent takes a substance it is almost inevitable that the child will eventually do the same. Some of the participants in the study reported that seeing their parents do the substance gave them the feeling that it was ok for them to also do the substance (Fawzy, Coombs, & Gerber, 1983; Skiffington & Brown 1981).

Granted not all children follow this mold, but the studies found that as a general statement this will happen. Emotional effects on the child One of the most compiling reasons for research on this subject by a sociological researcher is the idea that family interactions and rituals become defined by the substance use and abuse of a family member. A great many studies have been done to determine just how much the family adjusts and readjusts to the alcoholic member and how these adjustments affect each member of the family.

Families who are affected by alcoholism report much higher levels of conflict, stress and isolation then families naffected by this disease. Moos and Billings (1982) found that drinking is the primary factor of family disruption. They stated that a COAs family environment is often characterized by a lack of proper parenting, a lack of family communication, and poor home management. They also found that these deficiencies created a void of proper parental modeling on later needed parental skills. Moos and Billings study found that the void of a proper parental modeling will attribute to the COAs relationship problems later in life. They may encounter relationship troubles with their partners or their children.

All families experience some problems; however families affected by alcoholism tend to experience a greater number of issues. These issues may all exist at the same time or may have been experienced at different times. The following is an example of some of the issues that may be experienced: increased family conflict, decreased family cohesion(unity), emotional and/or physical violence, family disorganization, family isolation, individual isolation, illness (mental and/or physical), and increased stress and work problems, financial issues and frequent family moves (Guebaly & Offord, 1997).

The moving of the family may be attributed to the stigma the alcoholic member has brought on the family through abuse or embarrassment or for financial reasons pertaining to loss of a job or income. Interestingly while alcohol dependent parents lack the skills and ability to provide proper structure and discipline for their children, they tend to demand their children be competent in a vast variety of skills and tasks at a much earlier age then children of non-dependent parents do (Kumpfur & DeMarsh, 1986).

This added pressure and extreme expectations tends to led to low self-esteem in the COA when the tasks cannot be completed. It may also cause anger and resentment towards the alcoholic parent. As the child grows older it becomes an area of great conflict between the COA and the addicted parent and could lead to the child leaving the home. One study found that 79% of child runaways and homeless adolescents report alcohol use in their childhood home, and 53% report a drinking problem in their childhood home (Booth, & Zhang, 1996).

Physical effects on the child Alcohol has been cited as an inciter to increased chances of child abuse. One study found that, when comparing parents with a history of alcohol abuse and parents without a history of alcohol abuse, the parents with a history of alcohol abuse had a higher potential for child abuse then the parents without an alcohol abuse problem. (Ammerman, Kolko, Kirisci, Blackson, & Dawes,1999) The results of this study are backed by a separate study done at Columbia University.

Researchers found that, as reported by child welfare professionals, three of every four child welfare professionals finds substance abuse to be the leading cause in child abuse since 1986. About 75. 7% of those same child welfare professionals finds that children of substance dependent parents are more likely to enter the foster care system and COAs stay in the system for a longer period of time then the other children do (Reid, Macchetto & Foster; 1999).

Often times it seems that one child will bear the brunt of the abuse more than his or her siblings. According to Tarter, Blackson, Martin, Loeber and Moss (1993) their study found that sons of alcohol dependent fathers received more damaging discipline from their parents then daughters of alcohol dependent fathers or sons and daughters of non-dependent fathers. In a similar study, it was found that mothers with an alcohol dependency problem were more likely to use corporal punishment on their children then mothers without an alcohol dependency problem.

The strong likelihood of corporal punishment may account for the length variance of 24-29% (greater for COAs) when looking at inpatient admissions of COAs verse non-COAs. Of the reasons for admissions, the most prominent were substance abuse and mental disorders. In the same study, the researchers estimated that between 70% and 90% of all money spent on the child welfare systems is due to parental substance use/abuse (Reid, Macchetto & Foster, 1999). Multiple theories have been formulated to try and explain what makes an alcoholic abusive.

Miller, Maguin and Downs (1997) came up with three of their own. Their first theory is the Cognitive Disorganization hypothesis. This idea offers the explanation that the likelihood of violence increases due to the lack of communication among the family. The faltering communication is associated with the consumption of alcohol. When communication fails the alcohol dependent person may misinterpret general social cues, overestimate the presence of threat and underestimate the consequences of violent acts. Their second theory is the Deviance Disavowal hypothesis.

This idea finds that the abuser removes the blame of the violence from him/herself and places it onto the alcohol. This action effectively minimizes their personal responsibility for their violent actions and removes all guilt they may feel. Their final theory is the Disinhibition hypothesis, this idea offers the explanation that alcohol has a pharmacological interference with the centers of the brain that inhibit socially acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. These theories are not a definitive answer, but they give some idea into what may be the reason for alcoholism and child abuse being so closely linked.

Conclusion The studies have shown that a parents use and abuse of alcohol will affect their child in a negative way. While these studies still continue to be done, it seems that the number of children subjected to this life style still increases. It is impossible to deny that this is a real problem, as the COAs grow older and begin a life of their own, they risk repeating the cycle and subjecting more children to the same situation, or worse, then the one they were in. The studies have been done, now we need to find away to fix the problem before it gets any worse.

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