My little one's father is great with her. However, he is a severe alcoholic. When he is drunk, it is a terrifying thing. ( he is not physically abusive, but rather mentally) as my daughter is getting older, I am scared for her to be in the same house with him for fear that he will relapse. I am seriously considering filing for separation, but I am scared of what this will do to my daughter. She is too young to understand right now, but I am sure that if I tell him to leave, he will go back to drinking heavily....and not be a father.

any advise is welcomed.

  • Aw bless you, sounds like you're between a rock and a hard place. I think it largely depends on your feelings for him whether you file for separation, you don't mention how you feel about him? Is he sober at the moment? If so then I would probably tell him I'm proud of him, praise him. Maybe try to indicate (but not threaten) that if he returns to drinking then you will have to consider your position in protecting yourself and your daughter. It is such a difficult situation for you. Good luck
    – LauraJ
    Dec 12, 2014 at 13:45
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    This is really a broader problem than can be adequately addressed in an internet question and answer site. Please consider seeking help with an organization for families of alcoholics, like Al-Anon. Dec 12, 2014 at 15:56
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    "he is a severe alcoholic" - and you're probably enabling it. This is not something that can be "answered" and it's not really appropriate for this site. This is much too difficult to work out here. You need help. Professional help. From other human beings in person. Seriously - I left an alcoholic spouse and you don't want to do it on the internet. You will need support, from real human beings, who can give you actual physical support. This is not something that can be solved on the internet and attempts to do so may be harmful.
    – Jasmine
    Dec 12, 2014 at 20:54

4 Answers 4


I can really relate to your post, and Erica's response. You really do have my sympathies and best wishes for all involved. My father was an alcoholic (he's passed away) and was both physically and verbally abusive. I loved him very much, and I'm sure, as a child, I would have been very sad at first if he wasn't living at home.**

You seem to imply that his drinking is either under control or sporadic at the present. You also seem to be saying that you want to leave him, but you're afraid to do so because it might send him on a binge.

If you want to leave him for your sake, but still want him in your daughter's life, leave him. How he reacts to this is not under your control.

If you don't want to leave him, don't leave him. How he reacts to this is not under your control.

If you want to leave him but fear for your daughter's relationship with him, see a counselor to discuss the impact it might have on your daughter, good and bad. How he reacts to this is not under your control.

Nothing about his actions is under your control, and you will never make him better or worse.

Karl's suggestion was a very good one. Al-Anon is free and easily accessible. It will put into perspective your role as his spouse and the mother of his child, and your power over his alcoholism. It will help you to establish clear, reasonable boundaries, which helps everyone (including him).

Also, start working on your alternate living arrangements now. Start putting aside cash - even just small amounts - that only you have access to. Make contact with someone at an abuse hotline (I don't know if there is a special hotline for spouses of alcoholics) where they will guide you in a safe way to leave, and how to stay safe after you've left.

I realize that leaving someone is a huge and frightening step, and I know there are many reasons women don't leave their spouses. I understand that.

I don't know what my life would be like now if my mother had left my father, but I do understand why she didn't leave. I don't blame her for staying, but I do wish she had been braver and tried, if not for herself, then for the sake of my siblings and me.

You are between a rock and a hard place, you really are. Look carefully and fearlessly (it's only a look after all) at both the rock and the hard place, then decide on which you want to land. In either case, never stop trying to mitigate the effect of her father's abusive behavior on her. Words hurt more than beatings.

**I also would not have depended on unreliable sources for my protection, and might not have developed some maladaptive behaviors. As a result of living with him growing up, I had a very mediocre (at best) relationship with him as an adult.

  • 1
    I would add that if she decides to separate from her husband, there would be a variety of resources available to her depending on her location. In the USA, for instance, there are often city, county, or state-level programs for single mothers. Once she is in a new home, she'd likely qualify for food assistance. There's also a good chance she could apply now for housing assistance, and just leave her husband off the application. Point being, there's a lot that can be done to mitigate the financial burden and fears of leaving a spouse. Don't let $$$ be a determining factor.
    – user11394
    Dec 14, 2014 at 18:46

I have revised this post, which initially was more focused on an excerpt from Adult Children of Alcoholics by Dr. Janet Woititz. This research is rather dated, and also has led to possibly unjustified assumptions of causation by some researchers; anybody reading this answer and interested in the subject is encouraged to read the comments below, and the links therein.

In particular, a quote from the NIH article Children of Alcoholics: Are They Different? conveys better what I had hoped to express -- there can be significant impacts from having an alcoholic parent, but largely because of emotional abuse:

In considering children of alcoholics (COAs), it is important to remember that, although there is a genetic component to the vulnerability to alcoholism, COA issues are not related primarily to alcoholism itself but to the social and psychological dysfunction that may result from growing up in an alcoholic home.

I'd also suggest looking over Impact of Substance Abuse on Families (Chapter 2 of Substance Abuse Treatment and Family Therapy).

My grandfather was an alcoholic. This resulted in a lot of emotional trauma for my mother and her siblings, which they're still struggling with decades later (some successfully, some less so). He wasn't a "happy" drunk, and was angry, demeaning, and emotionally abusive towards his family very regularly. I and my siblings and cousins had to grow up with confused/depressed/angry parents -- this one emotionally abusive alcoholic had a significant impact on the emotional well-being of not just his kids, but also his grandkids.

Their experience wasn't traumatizing because of the alcoholism directly, but instead because of his incredibly bad parenting style. I have a good friend whose mother was an alcoholic, and her experience was different: her parent was rather distant and inattentive when drunk instead of being aggressive and frightening.

Different kinds of emotional abuse (belitting vs. neglect, for example) have different consequences. But honestly, I don't think this is a hugely important point, because trying to evaluate which sort of trauma you'd prefer for your child is a cruel question. None of them are good.

I don't intend to say that you absolutely must leave; being a single parent has its own risks and burdens, and you've noted it would have a negative impact on your partner as well. It's a big choice. But help him grasp that he has a problem, and that he can and should change his behavior for the good of his child. Karl suggested Al-Anon in a comment above -- but an alcoholism treatment program is a choice that, in the end, depends on your partner's motivation. You need to focus on your choice of whether or not to keep yourself and your child in that home environment.

  • -1 for perpetuating a known myth. See the book "50 great myths of popular psychology" for debunking of the claim that there is a distinctive disorder typically known as "adult children of alcoholics" (yes, they cite Woititz's book as one of the sources). I'm sorry to hear that your family has had to struggle with these issues for two generations now, but there is no evidence that they are correlated to parents' alcoholism.
    – rumtscho
    Dec 12, 2014 at 20:56
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    @rumtscho I really don't know how to respond to that. I had no intention of saying that any of these outcomes were going to stem directly from a parent's alcoholism, but was responding to the emotionally abusive aspect of the behavior noted by the OP. It wasn't the "alcoholism" that caused such strife, but the behavior of the alcoholic. I will look for the book you mention.
    – Acire
    Dec 13, 2014 at 0:51
  • @rumtscho I don't think anyone said there was a disorder called "adult children of alcoholics". It's inarguably a demographic. Whether or not there are behavioral/psychological trends among this sample that are greater than the general population is a different argument. I would say that there's very likely evidence of correlation between alcoholic parents and psychopathology in children, but correlation is not causation. This article is relevant to both sides of the coin: pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa09.htm
    – user11394
    Dec 16, 2014 at 5:47
  • @CreationEdge thank you for the interesting document. I agree that there is a demographic, and "disorder" was a poor word choice on my side. There are authors who define a set of symptoms and claim that these symptoms at least correlate, or even are caused by being part of the CoA demographic. Others have studied this hypothesis and found that such a correlation does not exist, members of this demographic do not have higher levels of these specific symptoms than the general public. So, stating that CoA have "strong risks" for the list above is factually incorrect.
    – rumtscho
    Dec 16, 2014 at 9:41
  • @Erica I felt much more uncomfortable giving this downvote than I usually do, because I am sure you wrote this post in good faith. Sadly, the resource which you are using appears to be outdated and by now disproven. I agree there is not much you can, or should, do - it boils down to which source you and I choose to believe. But I found it important to alert readers that the information you shared is, as a minimum, a subject of controversy. Looking back at my comment, I apologize for my wording, the beginning is unnecessarily provocative. But I stand by my opinion, and by the downvote.
    – rumtscho
    Dec 16, 2014 at 9:55

I cannot tell you what to do or not do. But I am getting the impression that you want to leave your husband, but fear that this will have a negative effect on your daughter.

It is indeed commonly believed that divorce by itself is damaging for children, and therefore parents feel responsible towards their child to stay in troubled marriages, lest they cause them harm by the divorce. This is not only common among laypeople, but it used to be the prevalent opinion among psychology professionals too. Data that children from divorced couples exhibit problematic behavior and social maladjustment seemed to support this theory.

However, there is one major flaw in these early studies, and the consequences drawn from them: they did not control for other factors beside divorce. When this control is done, the contribution of divorce is seen to be greatly reduced.

One thing I remember reading, but sadly cannot find the source: When you compare the children of troubled couples who stay together to the children of troubled couples who divorce, there is a slightly better outcome for the children of divorced troubled couples. So, it's not the divorce that hurts the children, it's the parental conflict. Or, alternatively, divorce hurts them, but living in a conflicted family creates a different, slightly stronger, harm.

A review (1) looked at studies which compare children of divorced to non-divorced couples, but controlling for problematic behavior before the divorce. These studies show that the bad behavior at later ages correlates much stronger with bad behavior at early ages, than it correlates with parental divorce. The abstract of this study concludes:

While children of divorced parents, as a group, have more adjustment problems than do children of never-divorced parents, the view that divorce per se is the major cause of these symptoms must be reconsidered in light of newer research documenting the negative effects of troubled marriages on children.

You can find a description of the article on its parent journal site, but the full text is also available from Researchgate.

And a personal anecdote too: My parents' marriage is also troubled, although by issues very different from alcohol. When I was in my late teens, my father, told me that he should have divorced my mother long ago, but did not do it because having me obliged him to stay. It was very hurtful to hear that. For the child, it's hard to have a single parent, but it's also hard to think you are the reason why one (or both) of your parents is chained to a partner who is ruining their life.

A divorce will have negative consequences on your child, that's sure. But deciding not to do it will also have negative consequences, and you should consider them too. I wish you the best in finding your way and raising your child.

(1) Kelly, Joan B. "Children's adjustment in conflicted marriage and divorce: A decade review of research." Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry 39.8 (2000): 963-973.

  • A study that followed 1,500 people for 80 years found that those who, during childhood, had their parents divorce lived 5 years shorter, on average, than those whose parents did not divorce. theatlantic.com/health/archive/2011/03/…
    – Shiz Z.
    Dec 18, 2014 at 0:21

Alcohol is an escape. People want to escape when their lives are unhappy. That unhappiness is usually caused by a degree of depression, and to a lesser extent, environment. So, there are 3 ways he can improve himself:

  • work on the depression - therapy, antidepressants, self help books
  • improve the environment - find and reduce what is causing his desire to escape
  • find alternate, less damaging escapes, like video games

And finally, he needs to know that if he will not improve himself and stop being a drunk, you will escape. No child deserves to be raised near an angry drunk.

  • Alcoholism is a disease, not an escape mechanism. Dec 12, 2014 at 17:52
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    @DaveClarke - while I agree with you, it does not change the fact that the child doesn't deserve this life, nor that the alcoholic has a choice to seek help and treatment. +1 from me.
    – anongoodnurse
    Dec 12, 2014 at 18:45
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    It can't be both Dave? Besides, I said alcohol, not alcoholism.
    – Dirigible
    Dec 14, 2014 at 17:45

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