Recently the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) published a study on 2/16/2012 reporting that 7.5 million children in the United States live with a parent with an alcohol use disorder. These children are growing up in chaotic households and the unpredictability of the alcoholic parent contributes to the child’s anxiety, fear and sadness.
The child continuously worries about the health and safety of the alcoholic parent. This role model has an unhealthy influence on the development of the child’s mental health. Pamela S. Hyde, an administrator for SAMHSA, states, “The enormity of this public health problem goes well beyond these tragic numbers as studies have shown that the children of parents with untreated alcohol disorders are at far greater risk for developing alcohol and other problems later in their lives.” It seems that the learned unhealthy coping behavior is passed down from alcoholic parent to child. Either alcoholic behavior is normalized to the child after some time and/or the child misses out on learning healthier coping skills because of the parent’s active addiction.
Either way, both nature and nurture seem to play a role in the development of alcoholism. It is not absolute that a child of an active alcoholic parent develops alcoholism; however, as this study indicates, the child is a greater risk of developing alcohol addiction growing up in this type of environment. SAMHSA is putting forth a program to help alcoholic parents find recovery with the intention of directly impacting the younger population, and the goal is to decrease the development of alcoholism.