“Alcoholism is a disease,” you tell yourself over and over again, but regardless of how often your repeat this mantra, your life with an alcoholic spouse does not get any easier. To make matters worse, you have children together, who witness every alcohol-tinged interaction between you and their other parent.
You, like a lot of spouses of alcoholics, may wonder if you should leave your husband or wife. While the answer depends on your unique situation and your spouse’s willingness to get help, it may help you to consider the very real effects of parental alcoholism on children.
How parental alcoholism affects children
Sadly, alcoholism rarely just affects the person afflicted with the disease. Alcoholism affects the whole family, and it has a particularly devastating effect on young children.
According to American Addiction Centers, children who grow up in households with one or more alcoholic parents have an increased risk of developing one or several behavioral and mental health disorders. For instance, children of alcoholics are three to four times more likely to develop alcohol use disorder than children of non-alcoholic parents. They are also likely to struggle with mental health disorders, behavioral issues, other substance abuse disorders and relationship issues through childhood, adolescence and adulthood.
It is also not uncommon for children of one or several alcoholic parental figures to experience physical, emotional or sexual abuse or neglect, or to witness domestic violence events. These children may also experience inconsistent parenting, unpredictable living environments, frequent arguing between parents, abandonment and erratic behavior.
As time passes, and as children learn to hide Mom or Dad’s disorder, a child may develop feelings of fear, anger, guilt or shame. Many children of alcoholics develop depression, anxiety and trust issues.
Future risk factors of children of alcoholics
Many children of alcoholics deal with psychological and physical health issues for the remainder of their lives. For starters, children of alcoholics have an increased risk of developing alcoholism and other drug-use disorders themselves. In addition to this hereditary risk, children of people with AUD are more likely to commit or fall victim to physical and sexual violence; to develop anxiety, depression, social phobia and agoraphobia; and to have eating and personality disorders than children of non-alcoholic parents.
Children of alcoholics also struggle to regulate their emotions in healthy ways. They are often prone to impulsivity, low self-esteem and suicidal thoughts.
No one can tell you whether it is time to leave your alcoholic spouse. However, carefully consider your situation and how it affects not just you but your children. An experienced and compassionate lawyer can help guide you toward the right decision.