Since the passing of singing legend, Whitney Houston, the public has heard almost non-stop about her battle with serious drinking and drug problems. We’ve also learned that her 18-year-old daughter has had her own trouble with drugs and alcohol. They may be celebrities, but they share one thing in common with many American families - the long-term effects of alcohol abuse.
More than 1 in 10 U.S. children are living with an alcoholic parent and are at increased risk of developing a host of health problems of their own, according to a new government study released on Thursday.
Researchers at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) analyzed national survey data from 2005 through 2010. They found that on average, 7.5 million children, under the age of 18, lived with a parent abusing alcohol during any given year. That’s about 10.5 percent of the under 18 population.
About 6.1 million of the children, lived in a 2-parent household where one or both of the adults abused alcohol.
Researchers said that of the 1.4 million children who lived in a single parent home where the adult had a drinking issue, the overwhelming majority was in female-head of households. The figure given was 1.1 million households.
"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 in life," SAMHSA representative Pamela Hyde said in a statement.
The study said that children of alcoholics were at a greater risk for mental health problems including anxiety and depression.
Another not surprising discovery was that these children were at higher risk for being abused or neglected by their parents. They were also more likely to have thinking or language difficulties and four times more likely to develop alcohol problems of their own.
While this study looks at how many children live with an alcoholic parent, the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) reports that if you substitute relative for parent then the statistic changes to one in five adult Americans have lived with an alcoholic relative while growing up. Again, the statistic is pretty staggering.
What can be done to help children of alcoholics? There are support groups and resources available, but understanding family members, friends, teachers, coaches and counselors can also help lead these children down a more positive path.
Children and adolescents of alcoholic parents can benefit from educational programs and mutual-help groups such as programs for children of alcoholics, Al-Anon, and Alateen. Early professional help is also important in preventing more serious problems for the child, including reducing risk for future alcoholism. Child and adolescent psychiatrists can diagnose and treat problems in children of alcoholics. They can also help the child to understand they are not responsible for the drinking problems of their parents and that the child can be helped even if the parent is in denial and refusing to seek help.
Some resources for families dealing with alcohol abuse are:
1. National Association for Children of Alcoholics- www.nacoa.net
2. Al-Anon – www.al-anon.alateen.org
3. Adult Children of Alcoholics – www.adultchildren.org
4. The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry- www.aacap.org