Should You Tell Children About Alcoholism in the Family?

I recently read a blog entry about an alcoholic death of a grandparent. The blogger, whom I respect for his honesty and vulnerability, asked if the grandchild (his daughter) should be told that alcohol killed her grandfather. It’s not bad enough that he has his own grief to cope with, now he has to decide how to present the untimely death of his father to his daughter.

I’m an alcoholic in recovery and I am ashamed of the things that happened when I drank. I did things that I’ve had to forgive myself for, but that’s part of the healing. I’m fortunate that I got to see life in recovery and fortunate, by God’s grace, not to have died an alcoholic death.

This is only my opinion, I would hope that my son would will tell my grandchildren that I had a life-threatening disease and it is called Alcoholism. Alcoholism kills every day.

The blogger doesn’t want to ruin the child’s good memories. Is preserving a child’s memories of the good times with the alcoholic at odds with telling them about the disease? Should you lie about it to protect them from the truth?

Truth or lies?

I vote for truth every time. Becoming dishonest was one of the consequences of my addiction. As an adult child of an alcoholic, many family members have probably picked up the alcoholic’s tendency to avoid the truth and see lying as a gentler, kinder option. Rarely is lying kinder, although it is sometimes easier for the time being. Fast forward 10 years. She is going to still have questions.

Reasoning that knowing the alcoholic label will rob a child of happy memories, makes lying a temptation. But if he does it, who does she trust? Her memories or her father? I think she has the option to trust her memories and still have the truth from her father. Because grandfather was an alcoholic, doesn’t mean that’s all he was. Her good times with him are still good times.

Dad will be helping her acknowledge what she already saw–a grandfather in the grips of alcohol. She already has questions. He states, However, ever the astute 10-year old, she was keenly aware of my dad’s desire for beer, constantly asking him why he drank so many.

Dad has the answers, doesn’t he? I think so and she will love him and trust him for giving them to her as she comes up with more questions. Many of us (alcoholics) wish we’d had a father who would have acknowledged our observations with the truth. She would be fortunate to have that.

PS: Risk of alcoholism has a genetic factor, just like diabetes or heart disease. Children of alcoholics are four times more likely than other children to become alcoholics, according to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, but environmental factors could be a factor in many of those cases.