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Indiana Prevention Resource Center (IPRC)

Children of Alcoholic Parents

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Survey on Drug Use and Health (2012), “an annual average of 7.5 million children under the age of 18 (10.5 percent of all children) live with a parent with an alcohol disorder in the past year”  (SAMHSA, 2012).
Children of alcoholic parents suffer from emotional, mental, and physical stress. This includes physical illness and injury, emotional disturbances, educational deficits, and behavioral problems (SAMHSA, 2004).  They are also up to four times more likely to become problem drinkers and continue the addictive practices of their parents (AACAP, 2015). Childhood expectations influence later behaviors. A study published in the journal Addiction found that “living in an alcoholic home predicted both higher positive expectancies and early onset of all drinking outcomes” (Jester, et al, 2015).  This could explain why alcoholism is problematic among children. In 2014, SAMHSA described “an estimated 139.7 million past month alcoholic drinkers aged 12 or older in 2014, including 60.9 million who were binge alcoholic users and 16.3 million who were heavy alcohol users” (SAMHSA, 2015).
The following are 14 facts highlighted by the National Association for Children of Alcoholics (NACOA) on their website, where you can read more about each fact (www.nacoa.net/impfacts.htm):

  1. Alcoholism affects the entire family.
  2. Many people report being exposed to alcoholism in their families.
  3. There is strong, scientific evidence that alcoholism tends to run in families. Children of alcoholics are more at risk for alcoholism and other drug abuse than children of non-alcoholics.
  4. Alcoholism usually has strong negative effects on marital relationships.
  5. Alcohol is associated with a substantial proportion of human violence, and perpetrators are often under the influence of alcohol.
  6. Based on clinical observations and preliminary research, a relationship between parental alcoholism and child abuse is indicated in a large proportion of child abuse cases.
  7. Children of alcoholics exhibit symptoms of depression and anxiety more than children of non-alcoholics.
  8. Children of alcoholics experience greater physical and mental health problems and higher health care costs than children from non-alcoholic families.
  9. Children of alcoholics score lower on tests measuring verbal ability.
  10. Children of alcoholics often have difficulties in school.
  11. Children of alcoholics have greater difficulty with abstraction and conceptual reasoning.
  12. Children of alcoholics may benefit from adult efforts which help them to: develop autonomy and independence; develop a strong social orientation and social skills; engage in acts of "required helpfulness;" develop a close bond with a care-giver; dope successfully with emotionally hazardous experiences; perceive their experiences constructively, even if those experiences cause pain or suffering, and gain, early in life, other people's positive attention; develop day-to-day coping strategies.
  13. Children can be protected from many problems associated with growing up in an alcoholic family.
  14. Maternal alcohol consumption during any time of pregnancy can cause alcohol related birth defects or alcohol related neurological deficits.

The NACOA web site includes sections for health professionals, Student Assistance, social workers, clergy, and one “Just for Kids.”  It also includes a Training Center, COA resources, and articles.   One section is devoted to COA Week and offers ideas for community action and mobilization, a COA proclamation, and other tools for COA Week activities (http://www.nacoa.org/coaweek_tools.html).
To gain an understanding of the parent’s point of view, the Indiana Youth Survey (2015) asked children their thoughts on how their parents would respond, as alcohol consumption may serve as a gateway drug to tobacco use or illegal substances. “Respondents tended to report engaging in these behaviors more often when they also reported stronger perceived parental approval for the behavior (see Figure 7) (Gassman, et al, 2015). 

Source: Source:  Gassman, R., Jun, M., Samuel, S., Agley, J. D., King, R., and Lee, J. (2015). Indiana Youth Survey – 2015. Bloomington, IN: Indiana Prevention Resource Center, p. 23.

Children of alcoholic parents can find resources that can benefit their family. The following is a list of treatment facilities and support services that can recommend treatment centers within close proximity of their home:

Business Phone: Website:

211 Helpline Center



Al-Anon Family Groups



Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locater



Boys and Girls Club of America


http://www.bgca.org/Pages/index.aspx ,

Students Against Drunk Driving

No telephone number available


Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD)



Youth Services Bureau (Bloomington, IN)




Other Options:

  • Sponsor school activities where students can learn about alcoholism. You can also invite the above agencies to your school that will also engage community support.
  • Contact your local public radio or television station to advertise Children of Alcoholics Awareness Month. Ask one of the above agencies to sponsor your public service announcement. For suggested PSA’s, please see the attachment.
  • Integrate Social Media into your program. The above websites lists agencies that can provide interactive tools to educate, council, and strengthen students amid this adversity.
  • Ask your Governor, Mayor, City Council, or Reservation to proclaim February “Children of Alcoholic Parent’s Awareness Month.”

Please know the Indiana Prevention Resource Center is available for further consultation. Our library contains many resources such as Communities That Care (CTC) and Strategic Prevention Framework (SPF), and other programs to prevent or reduce substance abuse. For more information, please visit www.drugs.indiana.edu .



American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry (2011).  Children of Alcoholics.  Accessed Feb 1, 2016, from https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Children-Of-Alcoholics-017.aspx.
Gassman, R., June, M., Samuel, S., Agley, J.D., King, R., & Lee, J. (2015). Indiana Youth Survey—2015. Bloomington IN: Indiana Prevention Resource Center. Accessed Feb 1, 2016, from http://inys.indiana.edu/docs/survey/indianaYouthSurvey_2015.pdf.

Jester, J.M., Wong, M.M., Crawford, J.A., Buu, A., Fitzgerald, H.E. & Zucker, R.A. (2015). Alcohol expectancies in childhood: change with the onset of drinking and ability to predict adolescent drunkenness and binge drinking.  Addiction, vol. 110 (1) 71-79. Accessed Feb 1, 2016, from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/add.12704/full

Johnson, S., Leonard, K.E., & Jacob, T. (1989). Drinking, drinking styles, and drug use in children of alcoholics, depressives, and controls. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 50 (1) 427-431.  Accessed Feb 1, 2016, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2779244.

Lucy, M. (2015). Portraits of Children of Alcoholics: Stories that add hope to hope. Children’s Literature in Education, vol. 46 (1), 343-358, DOI: 10.1007/s10583-015-9262-2.

National Association for Children of Alcoholics (NACOA) (1998).  Children of Alcoholics: Important Facts.  Accessed Feb 1, 2016, from http://www.nacoa.net/impfacts.htm

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2004). Children of Alcoholics: a guide to community action. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, retrieved from:  https://store.samhsa.gov/shin/content/MS939/MS939.pdf

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2012). More than 7 Million Children Live with a Parent with Alcohol Problem. Data Spotlight: National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Data Spotlight.  Accessed Feb 1, 2016, from http://www.samhsa.gov/data/spotlight/Spot061ChildrenOfAlcoholics.2012.pdf.

By Julius Lee and Barbara Seitz de Martinez 2/1/2016