- Rajeshwari Luther

 Mummy looks very sad. She does not answer.

'Mama, please ask daddy not to drink. Then he won't be so sick.’

‘Mummy is crying silently.'

I have a nice house, all toys. But why is there is so much yelling and shouting at night?'

'I cry when mummy or daddy beat me and scold me for no reason.'

I am terribly scared. Daddy will hurt mummy and she will hurt me in return.   


Addiction is a family disease. It affects the children with the same intensity as adults, sometimes even more. An adult can choose the spouse. A child has neither the choice nor a method to choose. While adults may feel trapped, children are truly trapped in such situations.

To one's eye, these children may seemingly look normal. They dress well, behave well, and sometimes are super achievers. But their eyes convey sadness beyond their years.

'Addiction is a family disease. It affects the children with the same intensity as adults, sometimes even more'.

A normal child is more spontaneous and carefree. Feels so bubbly, beautiful, playful, giving and receiving love easily.

In contrast, a child in an addict's family is mostly withdrawn, who tries not to rock the boat, hoping to be noticed sometime or the other.

These little angels are generally ignored as most of the attention in an addict's family is on the addict. The child in such a situation is forever longing for attention. They become people pleasers.

Children of addicts have a higher incidence of emotional problems: anxiety, stress, depression, and school problems. There is also a high incidence of associated medical problems in these children.

They live in a lot of fear. There is an absence of hugs and physical warmth. They hide their fears and hunger for warmth and love under a mask of self-control..

They often suffer from depression, which is a result of emotional deprivation. The non-addictive mother is usually busy trying to sort out matters, exhausted and depressed. These children become pseudo mature adults. They learn to behave and talk like grown-ups.

An abundance of negative feedback in the house means he /she has not been able to develop a healthy self. They thus suffer from a low self-esteem.

He/she learns that it is not OK to be honest in difficult situations. They therefore learn to rationalize and minimize their problems, learning to deny actual issues for fear of consequences. They learn to lie - lying about their parents, their situations, and cover-up the addiction in the family. Slowly, the child learns that lying is ok.

Children learn from what they see around them. In an alcoholic family, they see more guilt, aggression, denial, justifications and plenty of negative behaviour. When the father is not drunk, he showers the child with love and gifts. On the other hand, when the parent is drunk, he scares him with his behaviour. The child gets confused with conflicting emotional messages. The child learns that anger means violence, and violence and love go hand in hand. Hence, he desperately lacks a good role model, which is essential in forming a healthy personality. Children of alcoholics learn not to talk, not to trust and not to feel.

Such children adopt certain adult roles. They become over-responsible, taking on roles and responsibilities in the family, which is normally meant for adults. They become good adjusters- highly adjusting to any situation without questioning. The placating child tries to anticipate problems and solve them, even if it means he will get hurt in the process.

According to research, a child of an alcoholic has four times the chance of becoming an addict. Their damaged childhood carries over to their adulthood and they have a high incidence of divorces and career problems.

These children need an enormous amount of understanding, comfort, care, information and plenty of supportive psychological treatment in order to heal.

Modern treatment centres such as Hope Trust provide counselling for families of addicts and alcoholics and their children form an essential part of rehabilitation of addictive families. At Hope Trust there is a dedicated family counsellor who focuses on children of clients and helps them to initiate a process of healing. 

Ms. Rajeshwari Luther is Director of Hope Trust