Growing Up in an Alcoholic Home

How it impacts the child’s personality development  

Trust is one of the most vital elements of a healthy personality. 

Trust formation begins at birth and is crucial during the first year of life when the infant is entirely dependent on fulfilling basic needs. Maternal deprivation by an alcoholic mother can undermine the establishment of an infant’s trust. The child’s needs may be ignored, attended to as a last resort, or begrudgingly addressed. 

Even in cases where the baby’s physical needs are satisfied, the trust may not be established because of a lack of emotional stability. The quality of interactions is not as important as the quality. Whether the mother or the father is an alcoholic, the emotional drain on the parents may be so significant that there is little emotional support left on which the child may rely. The seriousness of alcoholic parental role-inconsistency is gravely underestimated at this level because the child is nonverbal and helpless.  

Some of the adverse impacts of being a child in an alcoholic home are: 

Autonomy Versus Shame and Doubt 

A child must be able to achieve autonomy and yet accept the valuable guidance of others. Parents’ contribution during a child’s growth is to provide practical and firm guidance when the quest for independence goes too far – a delicate balance between cooperation and willfulness is needed.  

In case of excessive restrictions, autonomy is not achieved. It is overshadowed by an emerging sense of shame in the child. A parent who wants to protect their child from the home environment may unwittingly limit healthy growth. The child is denied the opportunity to develop a sense of self-control because all forms of control, usually administered through restrictions, are supplied. The child may be unable to establish sufficient autonomy, resulting in a self-concept of inadequacy and shame.  

Initiative Versus Guilt 

Conflicts between initiative and guilt feelings begin in four or five-year-old children when their curiosity about the world is treated as inappropriate by adults. The child’s questions are hushed up or ignored; sometimes, even games and normal playful activities are stopped sort or prohibited by parental commands that cause feeling of guilt in the child. In alcoholic homes, such restrictions may be prevalent in the parent-child relationship because the self-centeredness of the alcoholic is dictating all family behaviour. 

A balance between parental restrictiveness and permissiveness is desirable as the child grows. Consistency is the most critical ingredient in this balance. 

Guilt emerges in the child when the responses to their behaviour are unpredictable. In alcoholic homes, inconsistency is a dominating factor. To overcome this, the child may over-conform at the expense of subjugating initiative and creativity. 

Industry Versus Inferiority 

A child entering elementary school begins to develop a need to feel useful, commensurate with their growing ability to explore and achieve. A crisis at this stage occurs if a sense of inadequacy or inferiority becomes dominant over the understanding of industry. Although problems during this time are mainly concerned with the school environment, a lack of parental interest in the child’s accomplishments can compound the child’s sense of inferiority since the influence of parents on education during the elementary school years is particularly strong. 

In the alcoholic home, feelings of uselessness can emerge in a child who will carry over into a school situation. A child who attempts different behaviours or initiates actions that they hope will be useful in solving problems at home, only to meet with failure at home, will tend to approach school feeling useless. 

An elementary school child needs to feel that they are achieving educational and social goals; parents possess the key to providing them with a sense of accomplishment. Survival in school – the child’s first step outside their primary environment – can depend upon how much self-esteem the child has developed at home.  

Learning Identity Versus Identity Diffusion 

The question “Who am I?” is closely related to adolescent development. The crisis of the period evolves from usual attempts to establish a clear sense of identity. The adolescent is no longer identified as a child but is not considered an adult. 

Overidentification with negative characteristics can occur at this stage. An adolescent sees themselves in terms of negative attitudes and rebellious actions. In alcoholic homes, such feelings are often already present because the entire family feels deviant, making it more than ordinarily difficult for the teenager to search for individual identity.  

A sense of personal identity is overshadowed by family identity. 

Intimacy Versus Isolation 

The ability to establish primary relations with others may be the most critical consideration for children of alcoholics. 

When close relationships are unattainable, feelings of isolation arise. The young adult is hindered at a time when most people are sharing feelings and developing satisfying communication with others.  

An adolescent from an alcoholic home who cannot achieve intimacy has so much to live with and so little to live for.  

Such young adults may repress all inner feelings while displaying an outer pretence of being “normal”. Such repression can result in loss of ability to become genuinely functional human beings. 

Children who emerge emotionally affected from an alcoholic home may find themselves socially isolated. They do not have the opportunity to become fully functioning adults. They are forced to remain within themselves.  

Integrity Versus Disgust 

A sense of integrity involves accepting responsibility for one’s life without blaming others for past or present misfortune. Integrity appears an impossibility for them.  

When integrity is not developed, the individual finds it hard to accept life. The person remains immaturely dependent on outside circumstances and makes statements such as, “I never could do what I want,” or “If I had it to do over again, it would all be different.” 

If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol-related issues, call Freephone 0800 140 4044 

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