I was raised with a father who was dependent on alcohol and who was very abusive emotionally but sometimes physically towards my mother. At that time I wished I wouldn't have a father at all. But I know he was there to support us financially and sometimes it wasn't that bad. During the time when he was sober and behaving normally, he was showing affection and love towards us.

Now when I look at it I wonder if it's better to have an absent father or a father with dependent drinking who is present. Is there any study showing that having an abusive father dependent on alcohol is better than an absent one?

My parents' generation tended to stay in a marriage in spite of these problems. But now people advise to get a divorce. I'm wondering which is better for the children? All the studies I found only compare good present fathers vs absent ones.

  • Your father was a drunk who beat your mother, and yet you're making excuses for him, and looking back and thinking it wasn't that bad? This is very sad. No amount of financial support excuses abuse. Aug 30, 2017 at 8:09
  • @user1751825, no that's not what I wrote. What I meant by "it wasn't that bad" I meant living with him. During the time when he was sober and behaving normally, he was showing affection and love towards us.
    – Grasper
    Aug 30, 2017 at 12:29

5 Answers 5


Clearly it's all a matter of degree.

An absent father is not good for the child. And there are different kinds of "absent" fathers: Fathers who just disappear, fathers who disappear but support the mother / child financially, fathers who come back regularly or irregularly. Fathers who die. Fathers who are in jail (guilty or innocently), or away for their job for long times.

A father dependent on alcohol isn't good for the child, but there are various degrees how strong the dependency is, and how it affects everyday life. One person may be a total wreck all week, another may disappear once a month for a weekend and may never be visibly drunk at home. And of course a person can drink too much without being alcohol dependent (yet).

An abusive father (and abusive and alcohol dependent may be statistically correlated, but any individual may be one but not the other) isn't good for the child, but again there is a huge range from mostly harmless to absolutely harmful behaviour.

So you need to weigh up, depending on an individual case, what causes more and what causes less damage. Every individual case will be different.

In practice, no law can force a father to stay with the child. And in cases where the law forces the father to leave the child, it is obviously assumed that the father being present is so harmful that an absent father cannot possibly be worse.

The interesting case would be a father asking himself whether it is better for the children if he leaves. You think your father should have asked himself that question. On the other hand, being an adult now, you could ask yourself whether and how much damage would have been caused to the father by leaving. Did having a wife and children keep him from going completely under?

  • 1
    Just my opinion here, but asking "whether and how much damage would have been caused to the father by leaving" seems irrelevant here. The parent is the adult, and chose to have the child. The child had no choice in being treated well or being a victim. To my over-sensitive ear, it is not the right viewpoint when addressing someone who suffered at someone else's hand. (I upvoted anyway. Good answer otherwise.) Jun 22, 2015 at 0:04
  • @anongoodnurse I understand your point but I think that the question as asked might be going further. If the father decides to leave and then drinks himself to death the harm might be greater then staying. Not only do you lose the income, but whether or not the child is the victim they might still feel like the cause if they know their father died in some way because he wanted to help them.
    – DRF
    Jun 22, 2015 at 10:48
  • Adding to @gnasher729's response, it's worth a note that most addictions are expensive. Considering the cost in a larger dwelling space (if needed) to accommodate another person, the cost of the addictive item, food/clothing/necessities/transportation/bills, and the cost of any repercussions from the addiction (say, jail time, tickets, fees), it may very well be possible that financial contributions are in the negative . Just something to think about.
    – rlb.usa
    Jun 24, 2015 at 17:08

I know this is pretty old but found it searching for answers. I will post something else that hasn't been mentioned. I left the man I loved after I delivered his baby because of his drinking, which began during my pregnancy. He would wake up at 5am cracking a beer and that would be pretty much how his day would go until 2am the following morning when he'd fall asleep somewhere in the apartment, he didn't always make it to the bed.

He'd go out to the clubs and bring random strangers home with him (men) to 'continue' the party at our apartment. Once, when our son was only about 2 months old, he brought home a group of strange men around 3am and came busting through the door, flicked on the stereo blasting music and waking us all up. I took my son and left him there with them and when I returned the next day, the men had stolen all of my jewelry.

That is why I left him. This was my life during my pregnancy which I spent alone most of the time. I had to take 8 unpaid weeks off after my c-Section and had to wait until I was able to return to work. By then, he had lost his job due to drinking on the job so often and I was left paying all the bills. My son hasn't seen his father in many years and I refuse to leave him alone with him. Not out of vengeance but because my son is my life and I just can't lose him. I tried to get him help and he refused, he thinks I'm just a boring person and sees nothing wrong with his life. I wish people would consider, it's not just that someone drinks, it's how the drinking affects them.


Children have a human right to a family life with their parents; and parents have a human right to a family life with their children; but everything must be done with the child's best interests in mind.

Children need to be protected from harm. Witnessing abuse is harmful. Children need to be protected from that. Being in the presence of a drunk person carries increased risk of accidental harm; and there's some risk just from witnessing someone being drunk. Note use of the word drunk there - some of the harms are reduced if the person with dependant drinking is not drunk when in the presence of the child.

That evidence of harm caused by abusive or drunk parents is pretty clear.

It's still possible for a violent parent with problem or dependant drinking to have contact with their child. (So long as the parent has not been violent to the child.). This might be at a children's contact centre, with constant one to one supervision to start, and then moving to group supervision. If the parent proves trust (that they don't turn up to contact sessions drunk, or that they have a close and loving bond with the child) they can move to unsupervised access.

But in general: protect children from harm; drunk violent parents are a source of significant risks of harm.

  • 1
    @Grasper I mean all harm. Not just abuse (physical, sexual, emotional abuse or neglect) and witnessing abuse, but stuff that's lesser than abuse but still harmful. It's likely that a person dependant on drinking is going to pose many risks of harm to a child, and the child must be protected from that harm in all its forms.
    – DanBeale
    Jun 18, 2015 at 12:37
  • 1
    well, in that case the potential to be harmed is always there. So an absent father is better than the alcoholic one. I thought so too.
    – Grasper
    Jun 18, 2015 at 12:39
  • 1
    @Grasper The potential for harm can be minimised by careful use of supervision. At some point the absence of a father is itself harmful. You need to balance the competing human rights (father's right to family life with the child; child's right to family life with father) with doing everything for the best interest of the child. I absolutely do not accept that an "alcoholic father" (you should stop using that hateful stigmatising term BTW) is always worse than an absent father.
    – DanBeale
    Jun 18, 2015 at 12:42
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    @Grasper there are specialist centres that deal with this. In general the father would pay. Sometimes supervised access is mandated by child protection social workers; sometimes it's mandated by courts; sometimes it's an agreement the parents come to. This works for very many children across EU, Australia, NZ, Canada. Probably also US.
    – DanBeale
    Jun 18, 2015 at 13:25
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    @Grasper Dan's point is that there can be a middle ground between "absent" and "abusive", although supervised contact does require commitment and time. Alcoholics can admit they have a problem and seek treatment and support; I'm sorry that didn't happen in your life. Please take further discussion to Parenting Chat.
    – Acire
    Jun 18, 2015 at 14:10

It's best for the well-being of the child that he/she is not living in an environment that is unstable. Alcoholics and drug users should not be positioned as authority figures and/or role models in his/her life, this parent is not a sound individual and this situation can prove very dangerous for the child. The alcoholic parent must either voluntarily leave and seek treatment if he wants to be in the child's life, or the other parent must have him removed from the home environment. The child has to be able to look to his/her home for safety and stability.

  • 1
    but if there is no father, the home will never be a place of safety and stability. That's my experience.
    – Grasper
    Dec 20, 2016 at 14:27
  • Maybe the problem is people think women can't protect their children, therefore a drunkened man should be kept around. This is false. My grandmother and mother, while not single, are proud gun owners. While my father was away fighting in a war, my mother protected me just fine. A drunkard is a danger to a child, whether intentionally dangerous or not. Merely driving the child somewhere or drunkenly carrying them upstairs to bed puts the child's life in danger. It is the sober spouse's duty to protect the child.
    – user25770
    Dec 20, 2016 at 16:43
  • I didn't mean physical safety but emotional.
    – Grasper
    Dec 20, 2016 at 21:08
  • A drunk man isn't present emotionally anyway, in most cases. It's no different than him being gone, even worse in my opinion because the child has to see him like that.
    – user25770
    Dec 20, 2016 at 21:14
  • as it was pointed out in the answer, it is a matter of degree.
    – Grasper
    Dec 21, 2016 at 13:17

Sounds like you are making up exscuses for the man .. he had an addiction and children seeing that will think it's ok .. I lived with that and my mother and father we're divorced early thank God for my mother who didn't let me around d that.. later in life he turned his life around and changed his life for me as his child. If your children are watching you pass out drunk every night then that's something they should not show a child and it is something that is a choice .. not a disease .. if you want to change for your children you will if you don't you won't.. children deserve the best bit the you'll do with that what I have because I need money for beer .. it's just a sad addiction really for the kids .

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