Children of Alcoholics in Shelley Stoehr's Crosses: Teens + Alcoholic Parents = Problems
Diana Mitchell& Pat Zipper
The National Association for Children of Alcoholics states that "76 million Americans, about 43% of the U.S. adult population have been exposed to alcoholism in the family. Almost one in five adult Americans (18%) lived with an alcoholic while growing up" (p. 3). Children of alcoholics (COAs) "are more likely to be truant, drop out of school, repeat grades, or be referred to a school counselor or psychologist" (p. 3). According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry ( 1995, Facts for Families), children in alcoholic families are affected in a variety of ways: They are often unable to have close relationships and are apt to have a variety of problems associated with guilt, anxiety, confusion, anger, depression, and embarrassment. Children know that there is a terrible secret at home.
There are many variables that will play a part in determining how the alcoholism will affect each child: birth order, ethnicity, age of child when alcoholism is at its worst and age of child when treatment is provided, economic status of the family, gender of the child, which parent--mother or father--is the alcoholic or whether both parents are, interactional style of parents, whether or not there are other siblings, whether or not there is abuse, and whether or not there are other supportive adults in the child's life. Despite the many variables, the kids get very destructive messages. The most predominant ones received by children in alcoholic families are, "Don't talk! Don't feel." Children are not invited to discuss the drinking or the problems that result from it and perceive, early on, that no one wants to