Victims of Family Alcoholism the Lasting Effects on Spouse and Children Child Roles Coping and Abuse Part 2 of 3

Alcoholism is a disease that affects the entire family of those involved. Children often take on inappropriate roles as a catalyst to cope with family problems and are at a higher risk for physical and sexual abuse.

Child Roles and Coping

Children of alcoholics often take on roles that are anomalous in nature. Most often seen is the 'parentification' of the children in which the child feels liable to take on parental obligations. Obviously, children are inept to take on these responsibilities which results in self-blame, lowered self-esteem, and feelings of worthlessness. According to Turney (2007), there are four identifiable roles that children of alcoholics fit: the responsible child, the adjuster child, the acting-out child, and the placater child.

The responsible child encompasses more traits of 'parentification' than others. The child may take on the task of getting other siblings fed, ready for school, or helping with homework. These children may cope with their alcoholic household by becoming controlling and successful over-achievers (AACAP, 1997). In school these children are constantly volunteering, are very responsible, and manifest a drive to be the best. They seek consistent praise, attention, and approval. They tend to be very disappointed if they lose, and almost snobbish when they win. These are the prototype “teachers’ pets”. It is important to note that despite mature behaviors, these children remain emotionally distant from classmates and teachers.

The adjuster child becomes indifferent to behaviors exhibited by the alcoholic parent. They simply accept the behavior and take it in stride. This role is frequently marked by quietness; these children are often very withdrawn (Turney, 2007). In school the child rarely, if ever, presents behavioral problems. These children often isolate themselves and prefer to work alone resulting in very few friends.

The acting-out child assumes they are to blame for their parents’ alcoholism. At an attempt to deflect familial problems and  accompanying emotional difficulties, the child creates their own set of problems outside the home (Turney, 2007). This role is marked by breaking rules, talking back, ignoring school work, blaming others, and forming alliances in school to help assist with their conspiracies. Although not explicitly stated, it appears safe to assume that this role may be linked more frequently with behavioral conduct disorders and hyperactivity.

The placater child suppresses emotion. They ignore their own unhappiness and instead comfort others (Turney, 2007). They may try to disguise problems by cracking jokes. They are usually very funny and distracting and demand the attention of those around them. A quieter version of the placater does not act out. In this role the child acts very motherly and is consistently trying to make those around feel better. There is a noticeable sensitivity in these children.

Not surprisingly, coping manifests itself in an array of behaviors. The most dangerous part of these roles is that the child becomes an expert at their role – they may identify themselves by it. Turney (2007) argues that these roles continue on into adulthood and put the child at risk to marry a problem drinker. Statistically, fifty percent of children of alcoholics end up marrying an alcoholic (Turney, 2007). Coping on all facets and in all roles is predominately negative. Most commonly, coping is found through two classical defenses: aggression or displacement (Jarmas & Kazak, 1992). Children of alcoholics present aggression through acting destructively towards others or themselves whereas children coping via displacement often mask their inner problems and emotions.


Physical and sexual abuse is depressingly common in alcoholic families. According to Turney (2007), fifty-five percent of all family violence happens in alcoholic homes. In one study, thirty percent of father-daughter incest cases and seventy-five percent of domestic violence cases involved an immediate family member who was an alcoholic (Parsons, 2003). Incest is also twice as likely among daughters of alcoholics compared to their peers (Turney, 2007). Incest and battering victims often blame themselves for what has happened resulting in guilt, shame, and helplessness. Because of the shame, many do not seek help. Consequently, some turn to alcohol themselves to self-medicate and escape the pain. In another study alcoholism was examined in cases of reported physical abuse. The results were astonishing showing sixty-nine percent of those abused involved one, or more, alcholic parent (Thomas, 1988). In one self-report research, alcoholics took a questionnaire that asked about child-rearing habits. Seventy-five percent of those who took it had a high risk potential for abusing their children (Chess, Thomas, & Hertzig, M. 1988). Other research is just as astounding.

A study examining juveniles from alcoholic homes found that forty-three percent scored in the highest range of a child-abuse subscale compared to twenty-one percent in non-alcoholic homes (McGaha & Leoni, 1995). The study showed that eighteen percent of the juveniles from alcoholic homes were hospitalized by parental physical abuse, compared to zero of the juveniles in non-alcoholic homes. The same study also indicated that sixty-eight percent of the juveniles in alcoholic homes reported being hit hard enough by their parents to leave bruises, in contrast with twenty-three percent of juveniles in non-alcoholic homes. The statistics are disturbing.

Psychological abuse is unavoidable in an alcoholic home. When physical and/or sexual abuse is involved, it only exaggerates the psychological abuse. According to the same study on juvenile delinquents, eighty-three percent reported running away from home at least once (McGaha & Leoni, 1995). Although the percent is high, no one can argue this is shocking. Research to measure psychological pain is impossible, but no statistic can measure the psychological pain that children of alcoholics grow up experiencing. As Silverstein (1990) states perfectly, “Children of alcoholics are people who have been robbed of their childhood.”

References/Works Cited/Sources:

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology. (1997). Children of alcoholics. Retrieved November 2, 2007, from

Berger, G. (1993). Alcoholism and the family. New York: Franklin Watts.

Briere, J.N. (1992). Child abuse trauma: Theory and treatment of the lasting effects. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

Chess, S., Thomas, A., Hertzig, M. (1988). Annual progress in child psychiatry and child development. New York: Psychology Press.

Jacob, T., Windle, M., Seilhamer, R., & Bost, J. (1999). Adult children of alcoholics: Drinking, psychiatric, and social status. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 13(1). Retrieved November 15, 2007, from PsycARTICLES database.

Jarmas, A., Kazak, A. (1992). Young adult children of alcoholic fathers: Depressive experiences, coping styles, and family systems. US: American Psychological Assn 60(2). Retrieved November 3, 2007, from PsycARTICLES database.

McGaha, J. Leoni, E. (1995). Family violence, abuse, and related family issues of incarcerated delinquents with alcoholic parents compare to those with nonalcoholic parents. Retrieved November 1, 2007, from

National Association for Children of Alcoholics. (1998). Children of alcoholics: Important facts. Retrieved November 1, 2007, from

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2007). Children of alcoholics- are they different? Retrieved November 14, 2007, from cs/alerts/l/blnaa09.htm.

Parsons, T. (2003). Alcoholism and its effect on the family. AllPsych Journal. Retrieved October 31, 2007, from

Turney, L. (2007). Children of alcoholics: Getting past the games addicted parents play. Do It Now Foundation. Retrieved November 2, 2007, from pages/808.html.

Wekesser, C. (1994). Alcoholism. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, Inc.

West, M., & Prinz, R. (1987). Parental alcoholism and childhood psychopathology. Psychological Bulletin, 102(2). Retrieved October 31, 2007, from PsycARTICLES database.

Silverstein, H. (1990). Alcoholism. New York: Franklin Watts.

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Posted on Apr 3, 2010