How can Having an Alcoholic Parent Affect Children and What Interventions are Available to Reduce the Impact?

Sarah Gentry*
Peninsula Medical School, UK *
Occurrence and recurrence
It is estimated that between 780,000 and 1.3 million children are affected by parental alcohol problems. Identifying children of alcoholics (COAs) is challenging as they and their parents often try to hide the problem, making provision of support challenging. This review aims to discuss ways in which having an alcoholic parent may affect a child, and identify interventions to reduce these effects.

Searches of PubMed, the Cochrane Library and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) databases were performed using the search terms "children of alcoholics" in combination with "interventions" or "effects" to find relevant literature.

Results and Discussion
COAs are at greater risk of depression, behavioural problems and low self-esteem. They are more likely to perform poorly at school than their peers and have difficulty making friends. Dependent drinkers often cannot meet their child?s needs, resulting in physical neglect and attachment problems. COAs are often given too much responsibility for their age, both in terms of their own personal care and that of their siblings.

Interventions may be aimed at the general population, individual or groups of COAs, or parents. They may involve education, social support and practical advice and vary depending on the child and their developmental stage. Those tailored to COAs have been shown to be more effective, but those targeting the general population or parents are able to provide support to those who are unable or unwilling to self-refer, without singling out or labelling the child. Group interventions allow COAs to meet and support each other.

Having an alcoholic parent can affect a child's health, physical and social development and family life. A variety of interventions are available, including individual or group interventions for the child, interventions aimed at all children, or by treating their parent.
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