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Addiction and its systematic effects are debilitating to the substance user and their loved ones. One of the most difficult dynamics that affect the family system and create dysfunction is the emotional and behavioral development of adult children who have alcoholic parents.
A person living in a dysfunctional home may eventually find the need to separate from the situation. At the same time, it may be helpful for an adult child to maintain a sense of empathy to help their parents as long as it does not continue to damage their personal life further.
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and Alcohol Abuse
Often, early childhood stress and experiences may contribute to mental health issues. We encourage addressing those concerns prior to helping others with a solution to their problems. Fortunately, there are support groups and other outlets for treatment that are available to treat the effects of childhood trauma.
Living in a Dysfunctional Home
A child who grew up in an alcoholic home can carry those experiences into adulthood. This may stem from observing damaging behaviors at home and feeling obligated to be the person who must provide a solution for their parents.
However, this can cause an inordinate amount of stress and lead to an inability to properly put personal needs first. It’s like the safety announcement made before flying when we’re told that in the event of an emergency, secure your oxygen mask prior to helping others.
As a Child of an Alcoholic, Will I Become an Alcoholic?
Alcoholism is considered a disorder that affects those afflicted both physically and mentally. It impairs judgment and rationale for both substance users and family members, and it may be difficult for families to put themselves in the alcoholic’s shoes.
Similarly, there may not be a reciprocal understanding between someone battling alcoholism to see it from the family’s eyes. This can put a child in an awkward spot, as they may feel like the roles have switched in their parent-child relationship. Even more dangerous, this can lead to the use of alcohol as a means of trying to understand what is happening.
As the child of an alcoholic, it is recommended to be mindful of your needs and we l being. It is not helpful to place the burden of the problem on yourself. Please remember, it is not your fault that your parent(s) have an alcohol use disorder.
Believing it is somehow your fault can cause substance use and mental health problems to arise in your own life. The same can be said with your decision to pursue a relationship with your alcoholic parents, especially if they are still drinking and refuse to seek recovery.
We encourage those affected that saying no is OK and always to consider their boundaries when interacting with alcoholic parents of the family. Sometimes, the desire to hold onto a relationship in the present can inhibit both parties from prospering in the future.
Traits of Children of Alcoholics
Spending developmental years as the child of an alcoholic can lead to commonly seen traits in adulthood. These include, but are not limited to:
Children of alcoholics are often normalized to isolation because that is a common trait among alcoholics. In turn, this can impact their desire to be around other people as adults. Some children isolate to avoid the chaos of the home, such as retreating to their room, which may become a learned coping mechanism.
Sense of Responsibility
As soon as someone realizes that their alcoholic parent is not fully capable of keeping everything in line, it changes their outlook. Especially if this realization occurs early in childhood or during teenage years, it can create an unbalanced sense of responsibility. It can lead to a very traumatic childhood that is imbalanced and manifests later in adulthood.
A symptom that is difficult for children of alcoholics is victimhood. Because there is often a void in proper parenting and emotional connection, they are left with an understandably tough childhood. Later, this can become an outlet for them to view life through the scope of victimhood and limits their abilities to take responsibility in their own lives.
This can manifest in many ways and is typically based on a developmental void in reciprocal love or attention. An adult child can be desperate to be loved, display patterns of abuse, or allow themselves to be taken advantage of in relationships. This can result in being more likely to engage in an unhealthy relationship. It is not uncommon for children of alcoholics to seek partnerships resembling family life and engage in codependent relationships with alcoholics.
Too often, children carry the burden of feeling like they have contributed to the troubled environment in their household. Additionally, as an adult, they can still feel shame for an association with an alcoholic parent. Shame is a negative emotion that is prominent in addiction and is all too often an impediment to recovery.
If you or any child who grew up in a dysfunctional home is exhibiting these or other compulsive traits, please consider exploring help from a support group or therapist. It is important not to allow these traits or emotions to influence you to use alcohol yourself.
Risks for Adult Children of Alcoholics
In addition to mental health traits that may develop and persist into adulthood for children of alcoholics, the development of an alcohol use disorder can also occur.
Alcoholism is considered a family disease in that it often affects all family members connected to the alcoholic. Children of alcoholics may be at higher risk of suffering from an alcohol use disorder. This can be the result of various reasons such as genetic predisposition to alcoholism, learned behavior from a parent, or reacting to the stress of other symptoms.
Children of alcoholics can be more prone to alcohol abuse and may be susceptible to higher rates of substance abuse and drug addiction. Many children of alcoholics have admitted to having an “addictive personality” or having control issues. This includes a proclivity towards gambling, sex addiction, over-eating, engaging in risky behaviors, and a general lack of self-control.
To reduce the likelihood of an addiction, a prevention goal is for someone who has been identified as at-risk to be cognizant of the risks and to help them avoid alcohol and drugs altogether. There is no shame in taking an evaluation or consultation for troubling behaviors and admitting to the fear of potential problems. Prevention is very effective and is often the first step towards addressing the potential risks and avoiding alcoholic destruction later in life.
Help For Adult Children of Alcoholics
Growing up in a dysfunctional household can create many challenges later in life. The experiences children endure while growing up in a dysfunctional household can affect them negatively if not addressed.
Although the children are not responsible for what happened, they can benefit from making the healing process their responsibility. The choices they are faced with may be limited to only a few options. One is to fall victim to the experiences, and the other is to heal and grow from the experiences. These are not easy choices, and since we can not undo the past, they may be the only options available.
Counseling For Adult Children of Alcoholics
If you are seeking professional assistance, please consider individual or family counseling along with Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Family meetings.
If an alcohol use disorder within the family has caused problems carrying into your adult life, it may be helpful to address these concerns sooner than later. If alcohol abuse is continuing in your family, addressing the concerns with professional interventionists and counselors can help those affected start the healing process.
The most ineffective approach one can take is being inconsiderate of themselves. When affected by childhood trauma, you deserve to be happy. Unfortunately, the problems will not just disappear. Discussing and learning how to process and cope can be a more effective solution than avoidance of the problem.
Interventions for At-Risk Family Members of Alcoholics
If you or someone you know is suffering adverse effects as the adult child of an alcoholic and is at risk themselves, Family First Intervention is here to help.
With our experience and approach to working with the family system when performing an alcohol intervention, we are able to help your family look at things differently. We can work together to help you stop the cycle of confusion that a family endures as a result of alcoholism.
We Help Families & Save Lives Amidst Dangerous Addiction Situations
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