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Children of Alcoholics are Affected


Dear Jeff and Debra:

My husband has just completed a month of treatment for his alcoholism. Our daughter is only seven-years old, and I always thought I hid the problem from her She’s the perfect child, so I never thought the drinking made an impact on her life. I’ve learned, however, that she has been affected by her father’s drinking. Professionals have told me that her perfectionism is a symptom of living with an alcoholic. If she makes a mistake, she becomes inordinately upset. She’ll cry and be depressed for a couple of days if she gets less than a perfect grade at school. She has frequent stomachaches and our pediatrician can’t find a cause. She is too young to attend the family program at her father’s treatment center. Are there resources for children her age? 
--Searching for Answers

Dear Searching:

 Children living in alcoholic homes are forced to grow up too fast and lose their childhoods to the insidious disease of addiction. Children taking responsibility for their parent’s addiction can’t just be kids. They often become little adults, attempting to make up for family problems by being perfect. This exerts a tremendous emotional and physical toll on a child. Children quickly learn the three rules of living with an alcoholic: don’t talk, don’t trust, don’t feel. As a result, beneath the perfect exterior is a child who is emotionally disconnected from herself and the people around her. She feels isolated and alone. Never feeling good enough, she strives even harder to be perfect. These children grow up never letting people get too close to them out of fear that their hidden, imperfect self will be uncovered.

The Betty Ford Center has an excellent four-day children’s program designed for kids ages 7 through 12. The program teaches children how to cope using age appropriate activities– art, games, storytelling, films, written exercises, role-play and recreation. Parents do not have to be patients at the Betty Ford Center for their children to attend the program. We highly recommend it for any child who has an addicted parent or grandparent. Children will learn that they didn’t cause the addiction and they are not to blame. The program helps them open up, express feelings and begin to trust. Contact Jerry Moe at (800) 854-9211, ext 4291, or go to the website: www.bettyfordcenter.org/children.

There are several books written for children of alcoholics. We suggest Claudia Black’s book, My Dad Loves Me, My Dad Has a Disease, and Jerry Moe’s meditation book for children, Kids Power Too! “Just for Kids” is a webpage for children of alcoholics and can be accessed at nacoa.org. The PBS documentary “Lost Childhood: Growing Up in an Alcoholic Family,” is worth watching. Check your local PBS listings for times and dates, or purchase the video for $12.50 by calling 800-729-6686.

Children who grow up in alcoholic homes have a higher rate of marrying an alcoholic or becoming alcoholic themselves. Providing your daughter with help now can break the generational cycle of family addiction.


Jeff Jay and Debra Jay are the authors of “Love First: A New Approach to Intervention for Alcoholism and Drug Addiction” Debra Jay is the author of “No More Letting Go: The Spirituality of Taking Action,” published by Bantam. Jeff and Debra may be contacted with your questions at: lovefirst.net.