The Effects of Alcoholism on Children
When you’re a child, every component of your psychological and mental health and well-being are in the developmental stages. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, millions of children grow up in homes with an alcoholic.
The topic really came to the attention of the nation in 1983, when Dr. Janet Woititz published the book Adult Children of Alcoholics.
This book outlined 13 specific characteristics often seen in adult children of alcoholics. Many of these personality characteristics can also be seen in adults who grew up in homes where their parents had other addictions as well.
When alcoholism is discussed, it’s often called a family disease. This is because it rarely ever affects just the alcoholic. It affects everyone around them, and in many ways, their children can be most affected.
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It can be difficult for children who grow up in homes where there’s alcohol abuse occurring to be fully functional in their relationships as adults.
The trauma extends to children who grow up in homes with functional alcoholics as well.
Unfortunately, what many parents don’t understand is the huge impact of alcoholism on children. Many parents wrongly believe their children don’t know what’s going on or don’t understand.
Specifically, there was information compiled several years back in the Children Commissioner’s Report in the UK. The report was called Silent Voices and was published in 2012.
It showed that alcohol consumption is the greatest risk factor for disease and disability in middle-income countries and the third highest in the world. Research compiled in the report showed children are often the most affected members of a family where alcoholism or alcohol abuse is an issue since alcohol is the priority of the person with the addiction.
If a child grows up with an alcoholic parent, that parent is likely going to forego their responsibilities as a caretaker because their compulsion to drink is their priority.
In children with parents who have alcohol problems, negative outcomes often include poor physical and psychological help, problems in education, eating disorders and children who end up having their own addiction problems.
The Challenges and the Personality of Adult Children of Alcoholics
For adult children of alcoholics, there are specific challenges they’re more likely to face in their adult lives than people who didn’t grow up in homes where alcoholism was present.
One big challenge is the ability to understand what normal is. Children who grow up in homes with alcoholic parents haven’t seen examples of what it is to live a “normal” life or be normal. They didn’t have strong adult role models, so they weren’t able to form their own behaviors on that sense of societal normalcy and functionality.
When children grow up in homes where alcoholism is present, they also tend to have trust issues because they’ve seen broken promises and lies as patterns throughout their lives. They themselves may frequently lie or try and hide the truth because it’s something they grow up doing to protect their alcoholic family member.
Relationships are difficult to form for people who are adult children of alcoholics. They may instead make themselves emotionally unavailable so they don’t even have to deal with this.
Another relationship pattern sometimes seen in the adult children of alcoholics is finding people who they feel need their help or who they can rescue. Then, the person neglects their own needs to instead focus on helping the person they’re in a relationship with.
In general a home where alcoholism or really any addiction is an issue, there are certain elements of daily life that include inconsistency and chaos. When a child grows up with an alcoholic parent, it’s very unlikely their emotional needs are being met.
Even if only one of their parents is an alcoholic, the parent who isn’t likely has to put a great deal of their time and attention toward other areas, which can lead to the children in the home feeling neglected at least in the emotional sense.
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Characteristics of Adult Children of Alcoholics
According to Dr. Wotitz book, there are 13 specific characteristics of adult children of alcoholics sene time and time again. The term ACoAs is what’s used to refer to these individuals.
The 13 characteristics of adult children of alcoholics include:
- Difficulty determining what’s normal or the sense of guessing at what’s normal
- Problems following through on projects from start-to-finish
- Lying even when it would be easy to tell the truth
- Extreme self-judgment
- Problems enjoying themselves or having fun
- Taking themselves too seriously
- Having problems forming intimate relationships
- Overreacting to change, especially change where they don’t have a sense of control
- Constant need for affirmation and approval
- Feelings of being different from others
- Either being very responsible or very irresponsible
- Very loyal even when people don’t deserve it
If you grew up in a home with an alcoholic parent, you might not have all of these characteristics or maybe you feel you have none, but overall there do tend to be similarities in the personality of adult children of alcoholics.
ACoA Recovery and ACoA 12 Steps
There is a group called Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization. This is a form of a Twelve Step programs that helps people who are not only the children of alcoholics, but also codependents and people who are addicts of other kinds.
The ACoA recovery and 12-step program has a history going back 30 years. Much like Alcoholics Anonymous and the other 12-step programs for addicts and their families, the ACoA 12 Step program focuses on finding a Higher Power. The goal is to help adult children of alcoholics learn how to better heal their mind and their body.
Much of the focus on the ACoA 12 Steps is on what’s called trauma work. During this trauma work, group participants are led to their Inner Child or True Self.
This ACoA recovery program also includes sponsorships and encourages participation in counseling to heal from growing up in a traumatic and abusive environment.
Regardless of whether or not someone wants to participate in the Adult Children of Alcoholics group, they often benefit from individual or family counseling. The goal of counseling for ACoAs is often to help them gain more awareness as to how their childhood played a role in the person they became. They can then more clearly identify their own needs, and also develop better coping mechanisms.
If you would like to learn more about recovering from alcohol addiction or how to help a family member, contact Amethyst Recovery Center.
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A Message to Adult Children of Alcoholics
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
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
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
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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