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The Relationship Between Alcohol and Child Abuse
There is a clear connection between excessive alcohol consumption and violent and/or criminal behavior. Evidence of the relationship between the two dates back as far as the 4th century BC. Recently, researchers have clarified alcohol’s relation to violence, fueled by severely inhibited decision-making. In the US, about a third of inmates were intoxicated upon arrest; half of all domestic abuse involve drinking. The relationship between alcohol and child abuse, specifically, is particularly close, with alcohol abuse being a contributing factor to child abuse and child abuse being a contributing factor to adult alcoholism. Over 1 million children are abused or neglected annually. Over 425,000 of these children were placed into the Child Welfare system.
How Alcoholism Relates to Child Abuse
One of the harshest aspects of an alcohol use disorder (AUD) is its effect on the families of those suffering from an addiction. Alcoholism is said to run in families. Of the 14 million Americans with an AUD, nearly half grew up with an alcoholic in their home. Research shows that children who grow up with an alcoholic family member in the household are four times more likely to abuse alcohol as adults.
Alcoholic parents are more likely to neglect children by:
- Physically or mentally impairing themselves
- Reducing the capacity to respond to a child’s cues and needs
- Having difficulty regulating emotional responses
- Spending limited funds on alcohol instead of household needs
- Spending time seeking out alcohol instead of maintaining responsibilities
- Estrangement from family
Children may also be physically or mentally abused by parents who are overly impulsive, aggressive, and violent. This can stunt children’s emotional and physical development, leading to disorders like PTSD.
However, if Child Protective Services become aware of any abuse or neglect, they will intervene, investigate the situation, and remove children from potentially dangerous situations if necessary. In extreme cases, termination of parental rights may occur. The Department of Health and Human Services estimates that between one-third and two-thirds of child abuse cases involve some form of substance abuse. Today, just over 1 in 10 children in the US live with a parent who suffers from a substance use disorder (SUD) or dependency; 7.3 million specifically deal with an alcoholic parent.
Addiction and the Foster Care System
The Children’s Bureau lists “social isolation, poverty, unstable housing, and domestic violence” as reasons children must be removed from homes where substance abuse takes place. In 2012, 31% of children taken from their parents and put into foster care were removed due to alcohol or drug use (some states had rates topping 60%). Of all parents misusing alcohol and drugs, alcoholic parents make up 88% of parents with substance use disorders.
In the long run, children of abuse are at a higher risk of:
- Decreased cognitive, social, and emotional growth
- Health issues
Because of the trauma involved in living with an alcoholic parent and that of being removed from one’s home, children growing up in foster care are more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol themselves. Nearly half of all foster care youth reported drinking or using an illicit substance within the past six months; 35% qualify as having a SUD. These children are also at higher risk of having a poly-substance use disorder in additional to mental and emotional illnesses that often go untreated.
Breaking the Cycle
Despite the requirement for addiction treatment for parents who are investigated by Child Protective Services, the number of parents who receive and/or complete treatment is low. Coordinating efforts between child welfare, substance abuse treatment, and family drug courts has remained difficult and inhibits efforts to rehabilitate families.
If you or a loved one have had a child removed by child welfare, the Children’s Bureau recommends taking the following steps:
- Make regular contact with your child.
- Show that you are planning for your child’s future.
- Stay in touch with your child’s caseworker, your family caseworker, and your attorney.
- Complete any programs your family service plan requires.
- Participate in family court proceedings.
Author — Last Edited: July 26, 2018
American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. (2011). Alcohol Use in Families. Retrieved on July 25, 2018 at https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Children-Of-Alcoholics-017.aspx
Children’s Bureau. (2016). The AFCARS Report. Retrieved on July 24, 2018 at https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/cb/afcarsreport23.pdf
Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. (2015). Alcoholism and Child Abuse. A review. Retrieved on July 25, 2018 at https://www.jsad.com/doi/abs/10.15288/jsa.1981.42.273?journalCode=jsa
Live Strong. (2015). Alcohol & Child Abuse. Retrieved on July 25, 2018 at https://www.livestrong.com/article/240851-alcohol-child-abuse/
NCBI. (2012). The Relationship between Alcohol and Violence — Population, Contextual and Individual Research Approaches. Retrieved on July 25, 2018 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3170096/
Office of Children and Family Services. (2016). You don’t have to stop being a parent while you are in a residential substance abuse treatment facility. Retrieved on July 24, 2018 at https://ocfs.ny.gov/main/policies/external/OCFS_2011/ADMs/Attachment%202B%20for%20res_sub%20abuse.pdf
U.S. Department of Justice. (1998). Alcohol and Crime. Retrieved on July 25, 2018 at https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/ac.pdf
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