The alcoholic's child

Close to an alcohol dependent,
the child lives in fear, shame, violence, feeling forsaken.
It is beyond his understanding.

Long-term risks. Intervention. Prevention

Revision: 06.08.2012

Updated in French and automatically translated


Such cases are many: in France, alcohol dependent people amount to one to two millions.
Half of them are under 32, therefore of an age to have children at home.

We shall leave out what is awful, though little frequent:
• Rough or brutal treatments likely to imperil life (cf books by Dave Pelzer and   Tim Guénard) and not just in recomposed families.
• As for brain damages in fetal alcoholic disease, they are a consequence of excess beer-cans in pregnant women. Though they cannot be regarded as a violence in terms of style or intention, they do result in this violence: 1/4 of the mentally handicapped and no curability for them.
• Numberless children are thrown out to streets by their alcohol and drug addicted mothers, from Africa to Baltic countries and from Philippin Islands to Latin America.
  Their fate is sexual abuse, blows, drugs, dreadful jails and fast death.

This Page focuses on the daily life with an alcoholic parent.


is marked by:
daily suffering,
the damage owed to dissimulation,
a situation beyond his understanding
and long-term risks.
We shall conclude with three positive remarks.

The daily suffering observed in their private patients was well described by Paulette Chayer and Fabienne Moreau (Canada):

Fear: both when the drinker does not come home at night and when he does, with his violence of speech and his bullying;
Shame: all the respect has gone out of the family. Every member of its feels guilty through too many accusations. Everyone fears shame might fall on the reputation of the alcoholic and of the family;
Failure is permanent. Hopes of change and vital impulse are disappointed from day to day;
• The child lives without feeling secure, without feeling loved, without being spontaneous.
• He is deprived of all possibility of showing - or voicing - any feeling whether negative or positive.
• He is often deprived of healthy food and quiet sleep.

The child is too much left unattended to on his own, either because the other parent tolerates the situation, or because he sets to drink in his turn, or because he has left home, or he has let his own grief possess him totally.

The child has no right to be a child.
• Feeling forsaken and not loved is dreadful because children are not so much afraid of dying than of being forsaken.
The risk of being forsaken, sometimes in the streets, may be realized if the alcohol dependent mother, left alone, is admitted to hospital or dies.
• Never being self-confident, he is in danger of depression. The first sign would be the collapse of marks in school.

• Damages are generated by the covering-up of truth, laid down as a principle. Paulette and Fabienne fully unmasked these damages:

• Each person, at home, minimizes the situation and finds an excuse for it, saying: "It is a way of his own of relaxing";
• Material destructions are hidden or repaired;
• Outbreaks of wild jealousy remain retortless and so are the other unfair accusations;
The code of silence rules behaviours.
• In public, speaking - when it takes place - is only to tell lies, to state excuses for absenteeism among other breaches of duty;

• The child is aware of his being wrongly punished every day while the drinker is never punished.
Falsehood becomes the real world.
The child begins to doubt his judgment.

He is wounded in his inmost feelings:
• Wounded in his sense of justice and respect;
• Wounded in his need for truth and his anxiety to understand.
• He blames himself for being coward, just as he suffers from his other parent's cowardice.
• He is in the dominion of falsehood. Soljenitsyne cried out for such a violence after we ourselves had undergone its rule with Nazi propaganda when France was occupied.

If the child has faith, isn't he wounded in his prayer, which gets blemished with unjustified guiltiness?
Can he easily thank God when he feels deserted by Him?
His petition may have regressed to become a vain request for a miracle.
The child has no clue that could associate him with either of his parents' prayer, a prayer which is not so rare as one might think.


• Let us now come to what is beyond his understanding.
In order to make out the situation, the child badly wants keys:

• A key to the vicious circle of drinking. At first, drinking is for escaping worries, but worries crop up again in a grimmer version with withdrawal. So then, drinking again in order to deny realities through other flights.

• As problems get worse, all the near relations are regarded as responsible for them.
They too are under threat, in case they dared tell such a pretendedly unbearable lie as that of the drinker's drinking. Let us keep in mind the thrashings received by Dave Pelzer and Tim Guénard and followed by nearly three years in hospital.

• As for the dependent's other lies, foul and stinking, no denying them to him is allowed.
The price for it would be a thrashing with a flood of vociferations.

• A missing key to understand the endless alternation of hatred, attachment and indifference.

• A missing key to imagine what the dependent really suffers during the morning withdrawal: nothing less than a death anguish he never speaks about, while everyone around him is abashed at his complaining about the merest trifles.

• A missing key to understand that the dependent is so humiliated by his powerlessness to keep from the bottle, that he compensates for it by humiliating everyone around and revelling in arrogance. Finally he has no remaining positive emotions, only hatred.

• A missing key to penetrate the dependent's awe of a legal order placing the child in a foster-home. Feeling it to be unjust would then aggravate his drinking.

In the meantime, revealing the truth to a welfare worker or a nurse would be rash words if a shelter-place is not ready for immediate safety withdrawal.

Long-term risks are heavy.

The child is in danger of an early initiation to alcohol, which would enhance the risk of becoming dependent later.

As youth, he will distrust love like Tim Guénard.
He will mistrust others and himself, to the point of fearing success, even to the point of failure neurosis.

He may even come to believe that pain conditions his being loved, joining thus in the romantic mythology. Such a belief would be throwing violent partners in his way.

Brought up in an atmosphere of disrespect, he is more likely to become a delinquent in his turn: a girl who was the victim of incest, turning to prostitution, drugs and alcoholic beverages; a boy getting vulnerable to drugs and drinking.
In extreme cases, he might become another Patrice Alègre, the serial killer whose two parents spent their lives in alcohol: a mother idealized and worshipped and a father hated for his violent behaviour and lies.

Yet careful! This is only a matter of probability. Reproducing one's parent's pattern is in no case inevitably bound to happen.

• Let us conclude with positive remarks.

"The positive legacy" of some of those children was brought to light by Paulette and Fabienne in Canada. When they become adults, their trials turn them into courageous, tenacious and resourceful customers, highly self-controlled in difficult situations.
They are perfectionist, keenly interested in understanding and helping whoever may be seeking a solution. They are trusted with responsibilities.

Such observations, rare but precious, bear evidence of resilience.
So do the lives of Dave Pelzer and Tim Guénard who became stronger than hatred.

• Let us not forget this: an alcohol dependent can recover and change completely for the better. He will then show a need for affection and a capacity for giving it that will be a great delight to his relatives.


some messages to people in charge of education and families:

At school, in Denmark,Iceland and England, role games make the detection of child abuse easier.
A regular coping with the sorrowful little mites' worries aims at preventing future reactions of flight into alcohol, drugs or suicide.

Within families, near relations can have an effective power as soon as sliding into alcoholism starts.

For instance, I am interested in the ninth month of pregnancies, because for the first time since their pre-adolescent days, women do take people's advice. It is the right moment to whisper to them that they might not be overjoyed at baby's being badly disabled in a car which would have been driven under influence; or that they might not be overjoyed at baby's father being dismissed for his alcoholism; or at their child's growing in a family alcohol or drugs have made havoc of.

Anyway whichever spouse is faced with alcohol dependence, the other will have to accept being out of action, necessarily bound to take some distance, handing over his spouse's case to a micro-network and to a therapist.

Finally, no divorcee in charge of children should settle with a drinker or a drug consumer. That is the very kind of step-father or -mother to steer clear of.



Chayer Gélineau P, Moreau F: Guérir d'un parent alcoolique. Outremont-Québec, Novalis   1998
Pelzer D: Le moins que rien. Paris, Lattès 2001
Guénard T: Plus fort que la haine. Paris, J'ai lu 2000
Guénard T: Tagueurs d'espérance? Paris, Presses de la Renaissance 2001

- Besançon F, Romelsjö A : Alcool : et le père du fœtus ? Dossiers de l’Obstetrique 1998;   25 (267): 36
- Bourgeois M, Lavigneron M, Delage H: Les enfants d'alcooliques. Une enquête sur   66 enfants   d'alcooliques d'un service pédo-psychiatrique. Ann Médic psych 1975; 3 (3):   592-609
- Casselman J, Solms H: Le milieu familial de l'alcoolique : présentation bibliographique.   Inform   Psychiatr 1971; 47: 39-47
- Emshoff JG: Prevention and intervention strategies with children of alcoholics. Pediatrics   1999; 103 (5 Pt 2): 1112-1121
- Le Heuzey MF, Isnard P, Badoual AM, Dugas M: Enfants et adolescents suicidants. Arch    Ped   1995; 2 (2): 130-135
- Mac Donald DD, Blume S: The children of alcoholic parents. Am J Dis Childr 1986; 5:   417- 421

- Michaud P: Enfants de malades de l'alcool : pourquoi intervenir et comment ? Alcoologie et   Addictologie 2001; 23 (4): 573-574

- Velleman R, Templeton L. Alcohol, drugs and the family. Eur Addict Res 2003; 9: 103-112
- Wilson C, Orford J. Children of alcoholics: Report of a preliminary study and comments of the literature. Q J Stud Alcohol 1978; 39: 121-142


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