In the United States alone, there are 28 million children of alcoholics - seven million of these children are under the age of eighteen. Every day, these children experience the horrors of living with an alcoholic parent. 40%-50% of children of alcoholics grow up and become alcoholics themselves. Others develop eating disorders or become workaholics. Children of alcoholics receive mixed messages, inconsistency, upredictability, betrayal, and sometimes physical and sexual abuse from their parents. They are made to grow up too fast because they must help keep the family structure together by doing housework and taking care of siblings since the alcoholic is not doing his or her part. Children form roles that they play to help disguise the disease. The roles help distract people from seeing the real problem and serve to protect the family so it can continue to function. There are five roles that the family members will take on-- the enabler, the hero, the scapegoat, the lost child, and the mascot.
The enabler is usually the spouse or the parent of the alcoholic. He takes on the normal duties that the alcoholic would normally carry out such as cleaning the house, taking care of the children, or even something as simple as walking the dog. The enabler also makes excuses for the alcoholic. He may call his wife's boss and tell him she is sick when really she is home with a hang-over. Or he might explain to a neighbor that the living room lamp broke because the two-year-old accidentally knocked it off the table when in reality it was thrown across the room in a drunken fit. This act of covering up does nothing but harm the family in the end. The enabler is making excuses and lying to hide the true act...
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...out the affects alcoholism has on the family, one may think that it is a life full of endless turmoil. There is help out there, though, which should begin in the school system. Schools need to educate kids about alcohol abuse and establish an ongoing trusting relationship with kids who need help. The children aren not to blame for the actions of their parents and they need someone to help them understand that it's not their fault and they can break the cycle. This way the children will know that they have at least one person they can turn to for help and that they aren't alone.
1. Children of Alcoholism, Barbara L. Wood, New York University Press, 1987
2. Working with Children of Alcoholics, Bryan E. Robinson, Lexington Books, 1989
3. Substance Abuse Treatment: A Family Systems Perspective, Edith M. Freeman, Sage Publications, 1993
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