Do My Kids Know My Husband’s Alcoholic?


I remember a public service ad years ago when a little boy was relaxing by a tree with his dad.
When his father lit up a cigarette the little boy put little stick into his mouth and pretended to smoke it.

The truth is there’s a lot of messages passed on to your children, maybe more than you even know.

Kids want to believe

Children have a simple belief in their parents.
At a very young age they take in messages about how the world really is.
Generally it’s the messages you and your alcoholic are role modeling for them.
It’s a basic almost unquestionable trust.
They don’t know ‘what’s wrong’ when your alcoholic goes on the rampage.
Often they think it’s something they’ve done or said.
Many children of alcoholics grow up with a great sense of guilt without knowing what source led to it.
This innocent belief in you and your alcoholic shapes how your child see the world.

Alcohol becomes the norm

You know how difficult it is to get your own needs met with your alcoholic.
Your children are bystanders with needs they may not be able to articulate very well.
When you’re trying to keep your head above water and at times losing the battle the real question is where ARE the children.
Here are a few things common with children who live in a home with an alcoholic:

  • They hide to keep out of the argument
  • They don’t bring friends home because of your alcoholic
  • They overcompensate to please your alcoholic
  • They often avoid the truth because of conflict in the home
  • They assume it’s because of them it all happens

Adjust to circumstances and unmet needs

They see the world much more concretely in early childhood. If there’s chaos they think of it as their world isn’t okay.
They may not have a clear understanding the chaos is coming from your alcoholic’s obsession.
Distortions happen and they interpret situations without alcohol to be ‘abnormal’ and those chaotic situations to be more ‘normal’.
You learn what you live.
One of the basic needs children have is to be loved and cared for by their parents.
When a parent is absent or unavailable there’s a deficit in the life of the child.
Children are resilient and make the best of most situations even an absent parent.
Often the turmoil results in no one in the family actually recognizing the needs or how to fulfill them.
With resources dedicated to alcohol, taken from other basic needs it’s very easy for the most common need to go unmet.

Know more than they tell

When children are only 4 or 5 they have the roles of adulthood down quite well.
You can observe this when you watch them play.
They know who goes out and slams the door.
The one who is passed out drunk on the couch or the one who is reduced to tears because of an argument.

The simplest answer is this. Your children ARE affected by your alcoholic, as with any parent. The negative impact does leave emotional scars. You can’t shelter them from all of the influence of the situation.

My recommendation is to be truthful with them. This isn’t a time to berate your alcoholic to the children but rather an opportunity to help them know your alcoholic is ill, that it isn’t their fault and that you love them very much.

What have your children picked up from you and your alcoholic? Let us know in the comment section below.


Did this article help? Get more advice (it's Free)

Your Addicts First Name

Your Email Address


Here’s What 10 Other People Thought...

  1. brigitte

    My children suffer with abandonment issues, I cannot leave a room without my two year old screaming hysterically to find me. He is also very wary of his father and has not bonded with him well. Very sad

    • FreeMyAddict Team

      You are no doubt his security at this point. He needs a safe person given what his father offers with alcohol. Thanks for your comment. In the end everyone is affected by the alcoholic.

  2. Stephanie

    My daughter has begun to talk to me like her father did, like it is never good enough.

    • FreeMyAddict Team

      Even if your daughter is in a rebellious stage (quite normal for teenagers), when she sees your husband get away with it with minimal consequence she can easily side with him and make YOU the scapegoat. It’s time for truth telling and a good boundary for your alcohol AND your daughter. Remember this, You don’t deserve to be talked to that way, by anyone.

  3. Amber

    My children love their father so much. And when he’s sober, he is really loving and fun. When he’s drunk, most of the time it’s much later in the night after they’ve gone to sleep that he’s acting like a complete jerk, so I’m usually the one who takes the emotional abuse. On the other hand, when he is drinking, he is distant from the children because he only drinks outside in the garage, as I won’t allow him to drink inside our home. So I’m sure the kids sense the difference. Sadly, a few times when he was horribly drunk late in the evening, because he is talking louder and is careless of his behavior, the kids have woken up from him or at time due to us arguing. It really is a sad way to live, because what I’ve found is that even as hard as I try to shelter them away from husband when he’s drinking it just seems impossible. It’s really a hopeless feeling and not a desirable lifestyle.

    • FreeMyAddict Team

      I’m sure your effort to shelter them results in a buffer from some of the impact of the alcoholic behavior. It’s nearly impossible to keep the neglect and abuse from having an impact. Your efforts to help them is very important. When truth about alcoholism and the illness your husband has is understood by your children their adjustment to it becomes more likely.
      Thanks for your comment.

  4. I am sure my children are aware of their fathers drinking. He hides it from all of us, but becomes withdrawn when he drinks. I’m not sure how to tell the kids without making my husband upset. I try and shelter them and explain that daddy is tired or grumpy, but he needs to be accountable for his actions and the neglect. Sigh….such a rough road!

    • FreeMyAddict Team

      It’s a tough road indeed. Truth is a great tool to help liberate the family even though it’s not always easy.

  5. brenda

    i have been honest with my children about their dad – they know ha has a sickness but they get angry and like me don’t know how to deal with it-so any advice would be greatly appreciated-trying to do the forgiveness but it sure is HARD and I think if I don’t say anything to him its telling him that I am o.k with his drinking what a dilemma ! HELP!

    • FreeMyAddict Team

      When children realize the truth about alcoholism it is the beginning of their healing. Everyone is affected by the alcoholic in the home. Denial is the greatest enemy. When you speak truth to the children they may become angry but they have good reason for their anger. It is the first part of them grieving what could be but isn’t . They will make appropriate adjustments if they follow the truth.

Leave a Comment

Talk With Someone