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How parents with alcohol issues can emotionally harm children

If you're divorcing a co-parent who has an issue with alcohol abuse, you're likely conflicted about what kind of custody arrangement to seek. Assuming that you have no evidence that your spouse has been physically or verbally abusive to the kids, you may not want to (or believe that you can) limit their custody rights if they're seeking shared custody. However, mental health professionals note that parents who abuse alcohol can be detrimental to a child's mental health in a number of ways -- some of which can impact them well into adulthood.

Having an alcoholic parent can cause considerable stress for children. Much of that is due to the unpredictability that comes with substance abuse. Kids don't know when their parent is going to be happy, loving, angry or depressed.

They may feel they can impact a parent's mood even when it has nothing to do with them. That can leave them consumed with guilt and shame because they blame themselves for their parent's mood. This can cause long-term damage to their self-worth. If a parent says angry, insulting things to a child while under the influence, that damage can be even more severe.

Children who have parents with alcohol issues often worry about them -- particularly if they're old enough to understand that their parent can't properly care for themselves. Children of alcoholics often take over "parental" responsibilities like cooking, cleaning and looking after younger siblings. Sometimes, they end up having to care for their parent.

Kids need structure and stability. Those are two things that a parent who's struggling with substance abuse or addiction can have a difficult time providing. Living in an unstructured environment, even for a day or two a week, can harm a child. If their parent isn't making sure they eat right, do their homework and get enough sleep, they will suffer academically, emotionally and perhaps even physically.

When courts are considering custody and visitation issues, their chief priority is what's in a child's best interests. If you believe that your co-parent's issues with alcohol and/or drugs are detrimental to those interests, talk with your attorney to determine how you can work to seek a custody and visitation agreement that will protect your children physically and emotionally.

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