Emotional Effects on Children When Seeing Their Parents Drink Alcohol

Drinking in front of children can be a harmless activity as long as the children are taught about the possible hazards involved with alcohol by close, loving parents. Neglect and abuse, however, may lead to troubles for children of drinkers as they grow.

Close-up of a beer glass being filled.
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Children of Alcoholics

The most severe emotional problems resulting from seeing parents drink may include guilt, anxiety, embarrassment, the inability to have close relationships, anger and depression, according to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. This can cause delinquent behavior and abuse of drugs and alcohol later in life. Alcohol abuse can be hereditary, but it can also be related to environmental factors.

Drinking Risks

There is a link between children who start drinking as adolescents and their parents who exhibited a favorable attitude toward drinking, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Children are more likely to view drinking as harmless when their parents drink, and they start drinking earlier. There is a greater chance they will misuse alcohol by age 17 to 18. Adolescents with fathers who have more than two drinks a day have a greater risk of substance abuse, according to the NIAAA.

Peer Association

Teens become more influenced by their peers as adolescents, but they are less likely to drink if they have a close relationship with parents who warn them about the dangers of alcohol. Children of drinking parents tend to associate with peers who have tried alcohol as young as ten, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. This also increases their risks of drinking and misusing alcohol early in life.


A study by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University found that parents who drink influence the way their children view drinking as adolescents. The study, published in a 2008 issue of Clinical & Experimental Research, looked at 4,731 adolescents and their parents from data gathered in a Finnish study of health-related behaviors and risk factors. The research revealed that parents who drank alcohol or suffered from drinking problems decreased the monitoring of their children, which led to teenage alcohol use. Although there may have been discipline by the parents, it led to rebellion by youths, suggesting they were more influenced by seeing their parents drink than by their discipline. Parents who communicate with their children at young ages are more likely to see their teenage children view alcohol as harmful and be less likely to drink at ages 17 to 18, according to the Nebraska Substance Abuse and Addiction Services. Lack of communication and monitoring, however, is more likely to lead to adolescents who drink and indulge in heavy drinking.

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