Though alcoholism is generally recognized as a disease, it is not widely recognized as a family disease reaching far beyond the alcoholic to affect the spouse, children and others with devastating consequences. It is estimated that 28 million Americans are children of alcoholics; 7 million are under age 18. These individuals are at high risk for developing alcohol-related physical and emotional problems. Current literature on children of alcoholics is relatively sparse, reflecting the limited amount of research and professional attention that has been given to this group. The treatment of alcoholism has focused primarily upon the alcoholic, while the children of alcoholics have been virtually ignored. This article describes the characteristics and roles of children of alcoholics in order to assist the health care provider in the identification of these individuals. A management approach is provided that can be used within a primary care setting for children of alcoholics.
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