A Message to Adult Children of Alcoholics

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Growing up with a substance abusing parent can be very upsetting. Many adult children of alcoholics and addicts still struggle with these memories later on in life. (ambrozinio/Shutterstock)

Growing up with a substance abusing parent can be very upsetting. Many adult children of alcoholics and addicts still struggle with these memories later on in life. (ambrozinio/Shutterstock)

Many children grow up in alcoholic households, and this sometimes causes them harm later in life. We refer to these people as adult children of alcoholics. This term isn’t meant to sound derogatory. It doesn’t imply that these individuals are childish or that they haven’t matured in their adulthood. The term simply refers to adults who may still be affected by their childhood experiences. We explain this because some people misunderstand this term, and some adult children of alcoholics may be offended by it if they perceive this label as an attack on their maturity.

This isn’t the only misunderstanding with which adult children of alcoholics have had to contend in the past. Just as addicts and alcoholics face many unfair stereotypes, their families face a fair number as well. Some people assume they know everything about a person simply as a result of knowing one thing about their past. At Amethyst Recovery, we meet many adult children of alcoholics on an almost daily basis. Because of this, we know that such individuals stem from a diverse array of backgrounds. Addiction doesn’t discriminate in who it affects, and this extends to the family as well.

Adult children of alcoholics may be diverse, but they can still benefit from a few common pieces of advice. Some of these pertain to the previously mentioned stereotypes. The rest simply pertain to some of the challenges faced by many who grow up in alcoholic households. Naturally, any broadly stated advice will apply to some people more than others. Always bear in mind when taking such suggestions that your mileage may vary. Nonetheless, we hope that the following article will prove useful to any adult children of alcoholics who might be struggling at the moment.

Don’t Let Others Define You

Never let another person point fingers and try to tell you what kind of person you are. Especially not if they’re resorting to stereotypes while ignoring the real you. (STUDIO GRAND QUEST/Shutterstock)

Never let another person point fingers and try to tell you what kind of person you are. Especially not if they’re resorting to stereotypes while ignoring the real you. (STUDIO GRAND QUEST/Shutterstock)

Nobody has the right to tell you what kind of person you are or what you’ve suffered as a result of alcoholism in your family. Perhaps drugs or alcohol caused your family to be dysfunctional. Then again, perhaps your parents had other underlying problems that caused dysfunction as well. But nobody knows this unless you tell them. If someone assumes that you suffered abuse, be it physical or emotional, you have every right to correct them if this was not the case.

Some particularly stubborn people might try to convince you that you suffered abuse, even if you feel that you didn’t. And in some cases, they might be right. Emotional abuse can certainly be quite subtle in many instances. But if someone starts telling you about your own traumas, feel free to let them know that they need to take a seat. Many adult children of alcoholics lead difficult lives as a result. But as noted in an article on The Fix, many also live quite normally. After all, some parents recognize their troubles and seek help before doing any real long-term damage to their families. This might be the case for you. If so, you shouldn’t allow anyone to speak down to you by trying to tell you otherwise.

Another potentially false stereotype is that adult children of alcoholics often become addicts or alcoholics themselves. Now, we should clarify that there’s actually quite a bit of truth to this belief. We mention it ourselves from time to time. But this doesn’t mean that all children of addicts and alcoholics grow up to develop substance abuse problems. The aforementioned Fix article notes that this likelihood often applies to about 25% of adult children of alcoholics. So while this number is obviously higher than what we might deem acceptable, many children with alcoholic parents do manage to avoid going down the same path. In our article about the disease itself, we mentioned genetics as a factor. This factor applies to about one-third of all alcoholics. If adult children of alcoholics were 100% destined to struggle with substance abuse, this figure would be much greater.

Many adult children of alcoholics also struggle with issues such as anger and resentments.  Again, this doesn’t apply to literally every one of them. But while those who don’t suffer from such issues should be careful not to let others define them, those to whom these issues apply should ensure they aren’t giving in to denial. Because if exposure to alcoholism and addiction as a child did leave its mark on you, it’s best to seek support as soon as possible.

Adult Children Of Alcoholics: Never Believe You’re Alone

A little bit of support can go a long way. (Africa Studo/Shutterstock)

A little bit of support can go a long way. (Africa Studo/Shutterstock)

One of the reasons we spend so much time outlining the problems faced by adult children of alcoholics, despite the caveat that these issues aren’t experienced by all, is that some of those who do suffer from these issues might not be readily aware of them. In the same way that addicts and alcoholics often avoid their feelings, family members often do the same. So while no one should assume that every product of an alcoholic household suffers from all of the problems described above, no one should falsely assume that they’re completely unaffected.

A major key to successful development is the social component. Those who spend their childhood in isolation to escape their parents’ addiction might be more likely to encounter issues later in life. But many of those who lead normal lives are those who tried their best to do so early on. These people may still have suffered some torment as a result of living under the same roof as an addict or an alcoholic, but they didn’t carry it into their adulthood. And if it ever did seep into their thoughts, they knew they could turn to others for support.

Building our support network might be easier for some than others. Some adult children of alcoholics might have the option of including family, while some unfortunately will not. But unless we’ve been completely isolated, we should already have a core group of friends on our contact list. We can also meet other people in support groups such as Al-Anon or Nar-Anon. Just like AA and NA, it’s recommended that people in these groups seek out a sponsor. Upon doing so, this person should be at the top of your list. Any time you find yourself feeling particularly down, your sponsor is a great person to call and talk things out.

Those who suffer from anxiety or depression as a result of their past will need all the help they can get. Sometimes our thinking takes us down a dark path, and it’s difficult to pull ourselves out of it. But simply talking to somebody else will often do wonders. We don’t even necessarily need to discuss the source of our woes. Hearing another person’s voice helps us get out of our head a little bit. This little bit goes a long way. Of course, we still might want to consider seeking other forms of help.

Help Is Always Available

Some adult children of alcoholics may require help from a support group or professional therapist. (wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock)

Some adult children of alcoholics may require help from a support group or professional therapist. (wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock)

We already mentioned the benefits of programs such as Al-Anon and Nar-Anon above. These programs put you in touch with other adult children of alcoholics or addicts. You can speak with others who share a similar history. Some of these people might have once suffered from great emotional turmoil as a result. But many live normal lives today, and these people make great allies for those who are just beginning to confront their past. If you’ve come to realize that your childhood might be affecting you, it never hurts to seek out such people.

Amethyst Recovery encounters many adult children of alcoholics as well. Some of them are patients who developed their own substance abuse problems. Others are spouses of patients, men and women who married individuals with similar substance abuse problems to those of their parents. We do our best to keep in contact with families and ensure that they, like our patients, are receiving the help they need. Our staff is always happy to answer any questions they may have, as we know this may be a difficult time for them. Adult children of alcoholics and addicts often find it difficult to accept that another person’s addiction is affecting their life yet again. They need to know that they have people in their corner, and we do our best to make that clear through our own treatment of patients and their families.

Those who find themselves facing particularly difficult struggles might consider professional counseling. In cases of abuse, EMDR trauma therapy might greatly help as well. Adult children of alcoholics and addicts who suffer from their own substance abuse problems are given the opportunity to take advantage of this form of trauma therapy upon entering our programs. For non-patients, we may be able to refer them to a specialist depending upon their location.

Adult children of alcoholics sometimes face difficulties, but these problems can be overcome through the power of support and a little bit of professional help. No matter how low we might feel at times, we can always lift ourselves up with enough effort. It’s no crime to feel bad from time to time, but we can’t let it run our lives. If professionals can help bring us to serenity, it’s worth the effort to learn more. For more information on how Amethyst might be able to help adult children of alcoholics find peace, contact us at your earliest convenience.

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