How Does a Mother’s Alcoholism Affect Her Children?

Alcoholism affects not just the alcoholic, but that person’s whole family. Mothers who struggle with alcoholism put themselves as well as their young children, at risk for a number of social, emotional and psychological problems.

Mothers laboring under the burden of untreated alcoholism may neglect their children’s needs, withdraw emotionally, or lash out violently, all of which can cause lasting emotional trauma for the kids. Children of an alcoholic mother are more likely to suffer from low self-esteem and mental illness and may have trouble forming healthy adult relationships due to trust, abandonment and other issues they developed as a result of their mother’s alcoholism.

Alcoholism Affects the Whole Family

Living with an alcoholic mother traumatizes every member of the family. Alcoholism can transform a loving mother into a woman unrecognizable to her children. The mood swings, erratic behaviors, withdrawal, violence and other characteristics of alcoholism she displays can leave her family — especially her children — feeling like they have no control over their lives, and can leave them with feelings of anger, helplessness, low self-worth, guilt, anxiety and depression.

Alcoholism Makes It Hard to Be a Mother

An alcoholic mother is more invested in her addiction than she is in caring for her children. Her addiction impairs her ability to put her children to bed on time or wake them up, pack their lunches for school, attend their events, get them to and from school and events on time, do their laundry, read their bedtime stories, or get them to appointments, for example.

As a result, children of an alcoholic mother are often forced to grow up too fast, and may find themselves taking on adult responsibilities as they struggle to fill the gap and care for themselves, their siblings and even their alcoholic parent. As if that weren’t bad enough, children of an alcoholic mother are more likely to experience divorce and more likely to be abused.

A Mother’s Alcoholism Can Have Long-Lasting Effects on Her Children

The children of an alcoholic mother can experience aftereffects that last for years, even into adulthood. Feelings of low self-worth and inadequacy can lead them to judge themselves harshly, making them more vulnerable to depression and anxiety disorders. They may have no idea how to form a normal, healthy relationship and may suffer from abandonment or trust issues.

The children of alcoholic mothers may grow up to be super-responsible or people pleasers in an attempt to avoid criticism. They’re often frightened of confrontation and terrified of others’ anger. They often have a hard time loosening up and having fun, because they may still be expecting something to go wrong.

Hope for Children of Alcoholic Mothers

The sooner an alcoholic mother gets help, the better the outcome will be for the entire family. When an alcoholic mother goes into recovery, it’s vital that her children and spouse also seek treatment to help heal the damage that alcohol abuse has done to the family unit. Family therapy can help everyone begin to interact in healthy and honest ways that support the alcoholic’s recovery and their own. For young and adult children of alcoholic mothers, this therapy can restore self-esteem, trust and self-worth, and help them learn how to build healthy relationships and interact with others.

A mother’s alcoholism can have profound and lasting effects on her children. Addiction treatment can help protect children from further trauma as a result of their mother’s alcoholism. Ideally, however, this treatment should include counseling for the entire family to help them heal from the effects of the mother’s alcoholism.

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