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Tuesday, 05-September-2006
( Irishhealth)- - Many risks for children of alcoholics

There is a genetic component to alcoholism that makes the children of alcoholics four times more likely to develop alcoholism than those from non-alcoholic homes, a new report has stated.
According to the report, Suffer the Children, from UK addiction specialists, the Priory Group, there is a widespread misconception that addiction is all about the addict and that they are the only ones who suffer. However the reality is that alcoholism affects the entire family, particularly the children.
"Alcohol abuse is a multigenerational issue - generation after generation, children of alcoholics suffer from and, as adults, frequently perpetuate destructive family systems", explained Dr Michael Bristow, a consultant psychiatrist with the Priory.
The report notes that 70% of adult children of alcoholics (ACOAs) develop patterns of compulsive behaviour around alcohol, drugs, food, sex, gambling or spending. Furthermore, they are up to four times more likely to become alcoholics than the general adult populations and 50% of them will go on to marry an alcoholic.
It also points out that parental alcohol abuse contributes to child abuse and these abused children are then at an increased risk of becoming alcoholics in adult life and subsequently abusing their own offspring.
"The reported rates of alcohol abuse in physically or sexually abusive families ranges from 25 to 84%. Around 55% of family violence occurs in alcoholic homes and incest is twice as likely among daughters and sons of alcoholics than their peers", it said.
Aside from the issue of abuse, the report emphasises that children raised in alcoholic families have 'markedly different developmental experiences than those raised in non-alcoholic families'.
"Their development in key areas is hindered, adversely affecting their adult relationships, employment prospects and quality of life", Dr Bristow said.
The report points out that the most significant characteristic of ACOAs is their confusion about what 'normal' is.
"Their dysfunctional childhoods provided them with little or no 'normal' life experiences, so they guess at what correct behaviour is to stop others from discovering that they genuinely don't know how they should act, react, talk or simply be", the report states.
However it adds that the cycle of alcoholism and abuse can be stopped.
"Alcohol dependency can be successfully treated at all stages if the person is willing to change. Rehabilitation is a positive, life-changing process that can transform the alcoholic parents and the alcoholic family system", Dr Bristow explained.
Meanwhile therapy can 'transform the lives' of ACOAs.
"ACOAs need to start and keep talking - to put their feelings into words and communicate with people", the report says.
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