Effects of Parental Alcoholism on the family

Parental alcoholism presents various challenges that reduce the efficacy of the family as a solid base for children’s effective functioning in social systems external to the family. For instance, parental alcoholism is associated with psychosocial problems, interpersonal relations challenges, self-esteem difficulties and lower academic achievement in children (Johnson, 2001; Rangarajan & Kelly, 2006). Some of the psychosocial problems associated with having alcoholic parents are depression, social phobia, and agoraphobia (Rangarajan & Kelly, 2006). As Johnson (2001) notes, children of alcoholics are also more likely to become alcoholics in adulthood, be verbally, physically and sexually abused, and experience violence between their parents than children from nonalcoholic families. Additionally, parental dependence on alcohol may lead to depletion of family resources, which can affect the capacity of the family to provide better alternatives for the children as they grow up.

Concerning family routines and parenting behaviors, parental alcoholism affects the quality of time the family has to bond and creates communication barriers in the family. For instance, in the study by Rangarajan and Kelly (2006), parental alcoholism was shown to enhance children’s perception of parental disregard. In the study, compared to children from nonalcoholic families, children from alcoholic families noted that their parents were significantly less interested in their activities, less available to take care of them and were more likely to reject them (Rangarajan & Kelly, 2006, pp. 662-664). Additionally, the study found out that parental alcoholism affected family conversation adversely. A more poignant outcome arises where parental alcoholism and subsequent disregard of parental roles, forces the children to assume the responsibilities of the parent.

Parentification occurs where children assume the “roles and responsibilities traditionally reserved for adults” (Hooper, 2007, p. 217). This early assumption of adult roles challenges effective development of the child, resulting in difficulties in identity attainment, attachment challenges and challenges to maintain relationships (Hooper, 2007). An example of parentification is whereby the child has to ensure needs of the family (e.g. feeding younger siblings and doing housework) are taken care of (instrumental parentification), thus necessitating the child to look for a means of income at a very early age. In this way, the child does not get a chance to enjoy one’s childhood, and thus is not able to develop effective defenses such as a sense of security and love.


Hooper, L. M. (2007). The application of attachment theory and family systems to the phenomena of parentification. Family Journal, 15(3), 217-223, doi: 10.1177/1066480707301290

Johnson, P. (2001). Dimensions of functioning in alcoholic and nonalcoholic families. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 23(2), 127-136.

Rangarajan, S., & Kelly, L. (2006). Family communication patterns, family environment, and the impact of parental alcoholism on offspring self-esteem. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 23(4), 655-671, doi:10.1177/0265407506065990

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