Every year in the United States, an estimated 700,000 children are abused. Nearly 90 percent of these cases involve someone the child is related to. In many situations, alcohol is involved.
Alcohol is present in many cases of child abuse because of the way this substance interacts with the brain — alcohol can cause violent and aggressive behaviors in some people. But surviving abuse can also eventually lead to alcoholism. Many people who struggle with alcohol addiction experienced child abuse in their past.
There is a strong correlation between alcohol and child abuse. To break this cycle and prevent future abuse, it’s important to understand how these two situations interact with each other.
Recognizing Child Abuse
Most people are familiar with the term child abuse, and would agree that it is a horrible tragedy. However, it may be surprising to learn what behaviors count as abuse and neglect. Child abuse may make people think of physical and sexual abuse, but the term can also include psychological abuse and emotional neglect.
There are four types of child abuse which include the following:
When a parent or caregiver intentionally injures a child, physical abuse has occurred. This can include hitting, kicking, burning, shaking, or throwing. More than 28 percent of adults report being physically abused as a child.
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Alcohol may be a factor in physical abuse due to poor communication and physiological aggression. Parent figures who drink to excess may blame physical violence on his or her alcohol abuse.
Childhood sexual abuse (CSA) experiences for both men and women are linked to family histories of alcoholism. Parental drinking is a risk factor for CSA, but most victims are abused by a non-parent relative or a stranger. This means that when parents abuse alcohol, it may leave their children more vulnerable to sexual abuse by others.
Alcoholic fathers are a risk factor for CSA by a family member, whereas alcoholic mothers are a risk factor for CSA by a non-family member. Experts state that this is due to the way alcoholism may interfere with a parent’s ability to provide a safe and nurturing home environment.
Most emotional abuse is caused by a pattern of behavior over time. This can include rejecting a child, telling them they are not loved, or isolating them from friends or family members.
Another form of emotional abuse is corrupting. This means engaging a child in illegal or criminal acts. Sometimes family members force a young person to drink alcohol or try drugs. This could result in a higher chance of this child developing a substance use disorder.
Neglect occurs when a parent does not give the care, attention, support, or supervision necessary for a child’s well-being. This could include failing to provide clothes, food, or proper childcare.
Parents with untreated mental health conditions or substance use disorders are at an increased risk for committing child abuse.
Alcohol Abuse And Alcoholism
Alcohol is the number one substance used in the U.S. Because alcohol is so popular, many people also may not realize that alcohol is the third leading cause of preventable death in the country.
People struggling with alcohol abuse may show signs such as:
- increasing the amount they drink
- skipping work, school, or family outings because of alcohol
- only wanting to go to events where people will be drinking
- drinking despite social or professional consequences
- making excuses about how much they drink
- craving alcohol
- engaging in risky behaviors while drinking
- displaying aggression or violent behaviors while under the influence
Alcoholism is a chronic, progressive disease that can cause people to have memory issues. People may experience a memory blackout, where they do not remember large chunks of time when they were drinking. Others may have a “brownout,” where they have patchy memories that come in the form of flashbacks.
People who exhibit violent or aggressive behavior while drinking could be in the midst of a blackout. During a blackout, people may be unaware of what they are doing. This can cause people to unknowingly break the law or even hurt someone, including a child.
How Alcoholism And Child Abuse Are Connected
Alcohol disrupts normal brain function, and can cause people to say or do things that are unusual. Heavy drinking weakens the part of the brain that is responsible for keeping impulsive behavior in check. This can lead people to act more aggressively than they normally would.
About 13 percent of child abuse cases directly involve alcohol. When people are under the influence of alcohol, they may perceive interactions differently. A normal response from a child may cause the parent to feel provoked, which could lead them to commit a violent act.
For those who are survivors of child abuse, alcohol can seem like an effective way to deal with the pain of the past. However, research shows that alcohol can actually complicate symptoms of anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
One study found that a history of childhood abuse or neglect is more common among women with alcohol problems. This study did not find that same correlation with men.
Using alcohol to combat childhood trauma could lead a person to drink heavily. Once a person increases their tolerance, they will need more alcohol to get the same effect. This could lead a person to become dependent on alcohol (where they need the substance to function).
If you are concerned that you or someone you love is dealing with the consequences of alcoholism and child abuse, there is help available.
Getting Help For Alcoholism And Child Abuse
More than 10 percent of U.S. children live with a parent who struggles with alcohol. This cycle of alcohol abuse and violence can and must be broken. Formal addiction treatment options exist in order to help people overcome the ravages of alcoholism and child abuse.
Those who have endured abuse as a child (and are now struggling with their own alcoholism) may be suffering from a condition like anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder. When a mental health condition co-occurs with a substance use disorder, it’s called a dual diagnosis.
Dual diagnosis treatment programs are available at inpatient rehab centers throughout the U.S. Customized treatment tracks may include medical detoxification, trauma counseling, group therapy, and mindfulness training.
To learn more about the link between alcoholism and child abuse, or to find a rehab center near you, contact a treatment specialist today.