Addiction and the Family: How to Help Children of Alcoholics

Addiction and the Family: How to Help Children of Alcoholics
By Aimee Pecora, MA, Therapy Extern-Psychological Services, with help from Beth Fishman, PhD, Addiction Services

Did you know?

  • One in five children grow up in a family system dealing with addiction.
  • Children of alcoholics are four times more likely to later develop addiction-related issues, such as difficulties with trust, anxiety, depression, and alcohol or drug addiction.

Considering these facts and in working with children, adolescents, and families, it is clear that addiction impacts the family system. There are several protective factors to consider or ways to reduce the negative impact of addiction, when working with children in a family system struggling with such issues.

What is most important when working with a child who grows up with a relative struggling with addiction?

“The single most important protective factor for children growing up in addicted family systems is a trusting, reliable relationship with a caring adult. The possibility are numerous; perhaps a clergy person, youth leader, babysitter, grandparent, teacher, coach, or camp counselor. What matters is that this person allows the child to talk about how she feels, is a stable presence in the child’s life over time, and provides the child with a safe place to experience life and herself in a positive, affirming light.”- Beth Fishman, PhD, Addiction Services, JCFS Chicago.

Other protective factors and important means of intervention include:

  1. Education
    Many children in an addicted family system struggle with feelings of guilt, anger, embarrassment, anxiety, and confusion. Developmentally-appropriate education on addiction is important because it allows the child to have a better understanding of the impact that addiction has. It also allows for the child to understand that the addiction is not their fault and that they cannot fix or control it.
  2. Group Participation
    Getting children involved in group activities outside of the family system is very important. Group activities might include: sports, arts and crafts, after-school programs, drama class, and/or swim class. Group participation will also encourage the child to engage, develop, and be supported by healthy peer relationships. Healthy peer relationships are important for every child’s development; however, it is especially important for children in an addictive family system.
  3. Counseling or Peer Support Groups
    In many family systems where addiction is present there is an unspoken family rule of, “don’t talk, don’t trust, don’t feel.” Individual and/or group counseling and peer support groups enable children of addicted families to break out of isolation and rigid or unfair family rules and express their feelings.

If you know a family or individual struggling with addiction and are interested in gaining information about the services JCFS Chicago offers, please call 855-ASK-JCFS or e-mail ask@jcfs.org. JCFS Chicago’s addiction services offers specialized help with alcohol and drug abuse and other addictive behaviors. JCFS Chicago’s addiction and misuse services also offers: community support, sobriety support, spiritual programs, and professional training. Learn more about addiction services at JCFS Chicago.

To read more on facts, information, and support related to children of alcoholics visit: the National Association for Children of Alcoholics and/or The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry-Children of Alcoholics.