February 13th- February 19th, 2011 is Children of Alcoholics Week. The National Association for Children of Alcoholics provides emotional support for children with alcoholic parents and educational materials for members of the community such as health professionals, social workers, teachers, and clergy who can make a difference in the lives of these children. Being a child in a family with parents that are alcoholics or drug addicts can be a very difficult emotional situation. The child often feels powerless to help the family member with the substance abuse problem, and years of psychological pain can result.
In addition to creating a difficult home environment, alcoholism can directly impact the health of the children of alcoholic parents. If the mother drinks during pregnancy, the alcohol is easily transported through the placenta to the fetus and a constellation of birth defects called Fetal Alcohol Syndrome can result. There is no amount of alcohol that is safe to drink during pregnancy, but the severity of birth defects is directly related to the amount of alcohol the mother consumes. In addition, drinking during the first trimester has a greater effect than later on in the pregnancy, but brain damage to the fetus and other adverse effects can result from drinking at any point during the pregnancy.
Babies with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome may have mental retardation, learning disorders, poor coordination, difficulties with vision and hearing, hyperactivity, poor impulse control, and sleep disorders due to the effects of alcohol on the brain. Other physical problems may result, such as heart problems, microcephaly, poor or delayed growth, limb deformities, and facial deformities. The face of a child with severe Fetal Alcohol Syndrome has some distinctive characteristics, including small eyes, a short nose that is turned upwards, a thin upper lip, and the absense of a philtrum, which is the vertical cleft between the nose and the upper lip.
Unfortunately, the birth defects of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome are permanent, and there is no cure, but treatment of long-term health problems may be required. Heart surgery may be necessary in some children with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and some will require special education for mental retardation, learning disorders, or behavioral problems. In some cases, drinking alcohol during pregnancy can result in a miscarriage or premature birth, which carries risks of its own.
Prevention of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is simple in theory, but difficult in practice for those who have a substance abuse problem: do not drink during pregnancy. If you are a sexually active woman and you drink heavily, use birth control; a lot of damage can be done by alcohol in the early stages of pregnancy, even before you know that you are pregnant. If you have a problem with alcohol abuse, seek treatment before you decide to get pregnant. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome not only poses serious health risks to the baby, but the behavioral and mental problems that can result last a lifetime. Treatment for alcoholism can involve detoxification, medication, counseling, and treatment of related medical and psychological problems.
There are many websites that serve as a resource for those looking to get clean and sober, and they have proven to be quite helpful for both addicts and their families affected by their addiction.