Posted: 12 February 2018

What you learn as the child of an alcoholic

Image © Andre Valente, author not pictured.

As part of Children of Alcoholics week, we're sharing a guest post from Josh, the child of an alcoholic and author of awareness-raising blog COAisathing.

Here he shares his experiences, his thoughts and his hopes.

Josh's story

As a Nacoa volunteer and with COA Week falling in this month I'm grateful for the opportunity to share some thoughts on a subject of which I'm extremely passionate about.

I believe that we could see some real movement toward the change that children of alcoholics deserve. But as awareness grows around this subject, I hope we can continue to do something very important, and that is to ensure we listen to the children affected by this themselves. 

Since starting COAisathing, and having gone deeper into my own experiences I have begun to realise how much more this has to do with the way an alcoholic family makes you feel than just the actions of a drunken parent.

We tend to hear the struggles of the children and instantly we know we want to help, and so we set about helping stop the parent drinking instead of listening to a COA's immediate needs. 

Children of alcoholics can find it extremely difficult to reach out to someone.

There are many common things a lot of children of alcoholics suffer with and they tend to be internal issues such as loneliness, struggles with fitting in, feeling different, guilt and lack of self-worth.

Now, stopping a parent drinking may give these children some breathing space, but it won't necessarily stop the negative impact alcoholism has on the children's mental well-being. So with this in mind I think it's important these children can find, and are given the support they deserve as a result of the effects a parent’s drinking can have on them. 

I believe the best way to achieve the kind of support they need is by empowering the children themselves. People often say, and I've found it's been my experience, that alcoholism has a way of taking the power away from families.

The alcoholic becomes entrapped in their alcoholism and if the other parent isn't alcoholic, they often become so engrossed in denial they become entrapped in the alcoholism too.

This leaves the children with nowhere to turn in trying to work out the ways they are feeling, often being shut down or their feelings made to be wrong or undervalued. 

Children of alcoholics can find it extremely difficult to reach out to someone.

As the child of an alcoholic, every day felt like I was paddling a boat hopelessly in the middle of the ocean.

People often make the assumption that this is simply because of the stigma around alcoholism. Though stigma is obviously a huge part of the reason, it doesn't tell the whole story.

Firstly a lot of children are not even aware of their issue, and struggle with realising what normal is, so awareness-raising is vital, but once we make the children aware, then it is absolutely imperative that we create the right environment for these children to talk.

We must make certain that when they become ready to talk, we are ready to listen.

With 1 in 5 children in the UK living with a hazardous drinker, this is a huge problem; however some of the solutions can be relatively simple.

As a child, if the right environment was created and I felt I had an opportunity to talk to someone willing to understand, I believe there's a strong chance I would have.

Often, children of alcoholics don't want the problem fixed, or their parents taken away, they simply need to be heard. They need to be given compassion and have someone non-judgmental of them, and non-judgmental of their parents who can listen and let them sound board some of their internal confusion.

Someone to be there, not to fix, not to judge, not to pity or despair but to support, to say ‘I hear you’.

As the child of an alcoholic, every day felt like I was paddling a boat hopelessly in the middle of the ocean. All I ever needed was someone to say:

'I may not know when land will come into sight, and I might not know how hard you've been paddling, but today I'm going to grab an oar and paddle with you.'

Find out more

We have a wealth of information, guidance and resources on parental drug and alcohol misuse, and the impact it has upon children and families. We have also just launched our new Hub for young people which features useful information and advice on how to help an addicted parent.

Visit our new website


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