Posted: 10 February 2020

Children of Alcoholics Week: 7 signs a child may be affected by parental alcohol use

Children of Alcoholics Week is a chance to get thinking about the effects drinking can have on families and young people.

We asked one of our practitioners at CAPE (Children of Alcoholic Parents Engagement) to share with us their top signs that a child might be affected by parental alcohol use. 

7 signs a child is affected by parental alcohol use

1. Emotional difficulties

Children who grow up with a parent or carer who misuses alcohol may show behavioural or emotional difficulties. These signs are difficult to spot but if a child is unconfident, struggling to express their emotions, or acting in a way that is inappropriate for their age, this could be a sign the child lives with someone who is emotionally unavailable, unpredictable and disengaged - potential effects of substance misuse. 

2. Falling behind at school

If a child falls behind with school work and has a poor attendance then this could be a sign they're dealing with something outside of school. Many adults who misuse alcohol have a more chaotic lifestyle and this lack of structure can have a negative effect on a child's routine.

3. Lack of concentration

Many children with parents who misuse alcohol will find themselves taking on a caring role and this can lead to tiredness and lack of concentration in school. 

4. Being secretive

Some children will do their best to hide the problem and cover up their parent's behaviour, possible believing something bad will happen if anyone finds out. 

5. Risky behaviours

Children with parents or carers who misuse alcohol are at greater risk of developing alcohol or substance problems themselves. If they're displaying risky behaviour, this could be a sign of parental alcohol misuse. 

6. Neglect

Again, this can be difficult to spot, but if the child shows multiple signs of neglect and they continue, this could be an effect of parental alcohol misuse and poor supervision. Common signs relate to poor hygiene and appearance, health and development problems and various behavioural changes. 

7. Relationship difficulties

If a child is finding it difficult to form relationships at school then this could be a sign that there's a lack of a stable parent figure at home. Alcohol misuse can often cause the user to be absent and emotionally distant, which can make the child feel absent and unable to form other relationships. 

What to do if you think a child is affected by alcohol use

If you think a child may be affected by alcohol use, make sure you let them know you are open to listening and hearing how they are feeling.

The CAPE website has a number of resources for young people and professionals, including the You Are Not On Your Own booklet to help children talk about a parent's drinking. 


By Practitioner

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