Parents who drink too much

Children tend to become aware of their parents' drinking from a young age, and it can cause lifelong problems. Find out more.

Does one of your parents or carers drink too much? There's help available for you that can make life better.

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Children with alcohol-dependent parents

While some parents attempt to hide their alcohol use from their children, often children do pick up on parental drinking much earlier than their parents realise, despite perhaps not fully understanding it.

Compared to other children, children of parents who are alcohol dependent are:

  • Twice as likely to experience difficulties at school
  • Three times more likely to consider suicide
  • Four times more likely to become dependent drinkers themselves
  • Five times more likely to develop eating disorders

Even where parents are not alcohol dependent, for a child to see their parent or carer tipsy or drunk can be confusing and upsetting.

Reducing the harm

Children of parents who drink too much appear to be least at risk if they are from families with high levels of family support; where there is a non-drinking parent who can reduce the negative impact of the drinking parent; and where there is security, for example a regular household income.

There is evidence that resilience (an ability to adapt to stress and adversity) is important in helping children to cope with a parent drinking too much. Parents can help their children build resilience in a number of ways, for example through encouraging them to take part in activities outside the family home.

If you are a parent who drinks too much:

  • Be honest. Talk openly to your children about your drinking. Children can often spot that there is something wrong, even if you deny it
  • Avoid pressuring you children into taking sides in family disagreements, and avoid placing an older child in the role of a peer or substitute parent
  • Help your children to thrive by encouraging them to take part in activities away from the family home, like sports clubs and youth groups, which will help to build their resilience and independence
  • Seek support. Remember that the best thing for both you and your child(ren) is to take action about your drinking. Talk to your GP about your options, and visit the National Association for Children of Alcoholics for more information.