What is it Like for a Kid Whose Parents Drink Too Much

As a teen, you may be the envy of your friends, as your parents are considered "cool."  You might even believe it yourself.  But kids whose parents drink too much generally have a difficult childhood, and develop problems that extend well into their adulthood, whether they choose to drink a lot themselves or not.

Read A Day in the Life of a Child of Alcoholics

So what is so difficult about it?  Well, it is different for every child, but there are some common themes that show up time and time again when people who grew up with one or more parents who drank too much talk about their childhoods.

Unpredictability is one of the most difficult aspects of having a parent who drinks too much -- you never know quite how they are going to react.  They may have predictable routines, and similar patterns of behavior, such as when they start drinking in the day or evening, or what or where they drink.  But you never know if they are going to be your best friend or your worst enemy.  If they are going to engulf you with drunken affection, or yell at you and blame you for their problems.  You don't know if they will lose their balance, have a car accident, or get into a huge argument with the neighbors.  These kinds of events may never happen, but the loss of control that alcohol can cause means that as the child of someone who drinks too much, you are always expecting things could go wrong.

Because of the unpredictability, and the tendency for people who drink too much to regress to immature and sometimes downright childish behavior, the child can often play the role of parent when the parent drinks too much.

  This can take many forms.  It might be as simple as having to be the sympathetic listener, while the parent complains about things not turning out right for them.  People who drink too much often don't make the connection with their own behavior, including their drinking, and the problems they have in their lives.

  So life can seem to them to be a series of injustices.  Yet a child doesn't have much experience of their own, and especially doesn't know how people who do not drink too much cope with the problems of life.  So they often take their parents' side, and inadvertently reinforce their parents' believe that the world is simply unfair.

Other ways the child can become the parent range from having to take care of the parent, having to cover up their mistakes, sometimes lying to the other parent and family members, as well as other people outside of the family who may be affected by the parents' drinking.  It can go so far as having to prepare drinks or food for the parent, having to clean up after them, and having to provide physical support to them when they are drunk or recovering from a hangover.

While they are doing all of this, they are themselves missing out of the experience of being parented -- having a role model to show them how to behave appropriately; being listened to and understood themselves, having the freedom to just be a kid and to make mistakes; and having someone to turn to when they have problems.

  As a result, kids whose parents drink too much often feel very alone, even if there are always people around.

When they grow up, they continue to feel isolated.  They may continue in a care-taking role, looking after their parent into old age.  Or they may reduce or cut off connection with them.  Either way, they don't have a reliable older adult to support them through the challenges of adult life.

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