We Have to Remember the Children of Alcoholics

I don’t have any children. Instead, I have a story.  I had a friend once, who I no longer keep in touch with, who probably will never see this.

children of alcoholic

We’ll call her Erica.  She had two children, one who lived with her (the child’s) father, and one who lived with Erica.

Erica’s daughter, I’ll call Bailey, and while I knew the two of them, she went from about five years old to seven or eight.  She was kind of tall, with a long torso and faint freckles under her eyes.  I’d hang out sometimes, often bringing some food over, since Erica was a single mother and all, a bit busy for cooking.  And an alcoholic.

When I’d go over I’d have a drink or two, pacing myself for the bar a little later.  I went to a place called Rawling Street Tavern.  Anyway, Erica was one of these drinkers who’d go all day, stewing in a slow, super-drenched drunk.  She was usually pretty bitter and sad.  It’s funny, because I kind of liked that somehow, and I found it comforting.

But it wasn’t good for her daughter.  A lot of times, Bailey would be out in the small living room of their small house, doing homework on the coffee table.  Erica and I would often be in the kitchen, or sometimes in the living room.  Erica had a very strange quirk.  She’d say critical things about her daughter right in front of her—even if we were in the kitchen, Bailey could hear her.

She’d say things like she goes too fast so she can finish her homework and watch TV or she get upset when she spells words wrong and just gives up or she has plenty of brains, she just can’t concentrate. Once she said, I’d be lying if I said she wasn’t a disappointment.

She’d have this serious look on her face when she did these things, and she talked in this plodding voice like a judge pronouncing a jail sentence.  Bailey would stare at the floor if we were in the room, or whenever I tried to talk to her.  When she’d answer me, her voice would quiver.

Well, on another note, Erica did get in a car accident once with Bailey with her.  Neither was injured.  But Bailey had to watch her mom take and fail a breathalyzer, get handcuffed and go to jail.  The police called a relative, who came and picked up Bailey.

I was thinking of this when I saw an article about the effects of alcoholism on the children of the addict.  I’d love to know where Bailey is now—she has to be about thirty—and if she’s OK.  I hope her life is thriving and full of hope.

The Experience of Children of Alcoholics

I wanted to write a post about the children of alcoholics because I think it’s such an important, worthwhile issue, one that may not get enough attention.  It’s not about you, reading this, struggling with alcohol and deciding to stop because of children you may have.  It’s more an issue for all of us to be aware of.

The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry tells us that 1 in 5 children grow up exposed to a parent in the grips of alcoholism.  The AACAP tells us that common problems that beset these children are:

  • anger and depression
  • withdrawal and difficulty making and keeping friends
  • aggression
  • risk-taking behavior

So, what we see is not just getting some negative comments from parents or just feeling unsafe, that you don’t have a good caregiver.  Rather, the child of an alcoholic develops traits that can cause him or her to act out.  Naturally, this can lead to his or her own alcoholism.

British politician Liam Byrne grew up the son of an alcoholic and he now holds the rights of children in this bad circumstance as one of his key areas of activism.  He feels that, among other things, society (no matter which country) needs to do a better job of seeing the signs of a child of an alcoholic to further investigate the situation.  He also says that medical practitioners should do a better job of inquiring about possible alcoholism of a patient’s parents.

There are many support groups for adult children of alcoholics.  But what about children-children?  I’d like to see a much better emphasis on them and their needs in their very fragile circumstance.

Photo by Miroslav Vajdic on Flickr