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When You’re the Adult Child of an Alcoholic Parent

You may not drink, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t affected by alcoholism. If you are the adult child of an alcoholic parent, learn how to cope with the effect alcoholism has had on your life.

When a parent abuses alcohol, the whole family suffers. Children are especially at risk. Growing up in an alcoholic home can seriously interfere with the normal stages of childhood. Later, adult children of alcoholic parents often have problems with trust, control and fear of intimacy.

Growing up in a disruptive home

Alcohol abuse interferes with a parent’s ability to provide a loving and structured home life for children. The home is usually filled with chaos and sometimes violence and/or incest. The parent often breaks promises. Discipline is not consistent. Mood swings and personality changes in the parent are common. Finances may suffer.

All this can cause tremendous confusion and fear in a child. There is usually anger and resentment toward the parent who is not being responsible or reliable. Family roles are unclear. Older children may have to take on the adult duty of caring for younger siblings. As teens, many are mature beyond their years, the result of having to grow up too fast in an alcoholic home.

Children of alcoholics also carry the burden of worrying about their parents. Often, they are embarrassed by a parent’s behavior. So, they may work hard to cover for the parent or lie to protect him or her. This creates uncomfortable family secrets, inside and outside of the home.

Problems that arise in adulthood

Adult children of alcoholics often have no frame of reference for a normal life. As a result, they may lack certain coping skills and have trouble forming healthy relationships. Some become perfectionists or overachievers to compensate for low self-esteem. Some mistakenly believe that they were the cause of a parent’s drinking. Other common traits in adulthood include:

  • Problems with trust
  • Difficulty expressing feelings and needs
  • Fear of intimacy
  • A need to control
  • Feelings of isolation and aloneness
  • Constant seeking of approval and affirmation
  • Being extremely responsible or irresponsible
  • Impulsivity
  • Substance abuse

Getting help

People who have grown up in an alcoholic home may have a lifetime of problems unless they learn ways to move beyond the stresses of their childhood. For most, the first step toward healing is learning more about the disease of alcoholism and how it has affected them. By gaining insight into the past, they can better understand why they behave in certain ways.

If you are a child of an alcoholic, it is important to recognize that healing often involves talking about what you went through and how you feel about it now.

There are many paths for getting help:

  • Individual therapy. Meet with a reputable therapist who has experience with family issues relating to addiction and recovery.
  • Group support. Seek out local Al-Anon and/or Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA) meetings.
  • Self-education
  • Books. Check with your local library for books about overcoming a chaotic childhood.
  • Parent courses. If you have children, learn about child development. Seek out and take part in a parent education course to learn skills for relating to your children.

If you are comfortable, share your decision to seek help with close friends and family who can support you. You may find that you are not alone in your pain.

The type of help you seek is not as important as the fact that you are open to change. The first part of your life may have been affected by family alcoholism. The rest of your life doesn’t have to be.

source: my Optum Health

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