Did you grow up in a family with Alcohol or Drug abuse?
Remember you are not alone.
Nearly seventy-six million American adults have been exposed to alcoholism in their family, as well as one in every four families. Alcoholism is responsible for more family problems than any other single cause.*
It all begins in the womb. If a woman drinks an alcohol during her pregnancy, the concentration of alcohol in her unborn baby’s bloodstream is the same level as her own. She may give birth to a baby with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome which is one of the three top known causes of birth defects.
It doesn’t stop there.
Many normal children of alcoholics have common symptoms such as low self-esteem, loneliness, guilt, feelings of helplessness, fear of abandonment, and chronic depression. They may feel responsible for the problems of the alcoholic and may think they created the problem. Children of alcoholics may feel high levels of tension and stress.
Living with a parent who drinks excessively may make the children in the family feel embarrassed, angry, sad, or hurt. They may feel helpless and frustrated when the parent promises to stop drinking and they don’t keep their promises.
Children may be mistreated, or neglected, for instance coming home from school to find their parent passed out on the couch. They may spend a lot of energy trying to figure out a parent’s mood or guess what the parent wants.
The parent may even be visibly drunk in public which can cause a child embarrassment and confusion. Children can be put in a dangerous situation when the parent who is the car has been drinking.
Even if the alcoholic himself ultimately reforms, the family members who were so greatly affected may not themselves ever recover from the problems inflicted upon them.
The alcoholic’s codependent family members do everything possible to hide the problem, preserve the family’s prestige and project the image of a “perfect family.” The spouse and children may avoid making friends and bringing other people home to hide problems caused by alcoholism. Family members often forget about their own needs and desires in their efforts to hide the problem.
Children may try to control or cure the drinking parent, because they may feel responsible for the problems of their parents. Problems of depression, aggression, or impulsive behavior are not uncommon.
From the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, here are some of the conflicting emotions that a child may be feeling as they are being raised in an alcoholic home:
- Guilt – The child may see himself or herself as the main cause of the mother’s or father’s drinking.
- Anxiety – The child may worry constantly about the situation at home. He or she may fear the alcoholic parent will become sick or injured, and may also fear fights and violence between the parents.
- Embarrassment – Parents may give the child the message that there is a terrible secret at home. The ashamed child does not invite friends home and is afraid to ask anyone for help.
- Inability to have close relationships – Because the child has been disappointed by the drinking parent many times, he or she often does not trust others.
- Confusion – The alcoholic parent will change suddenly from being loving to angry, regardless of the child’s behavior. A regular daily schedule, which is very important for a child, does not exist because bedtimes and mealtimes are constantly changing.
- Anger – The child feels anger at the alcoholic parent for drinking, and may be angry at the nonalcoholic parent for lack of support and protection.
- Depression – The child feels lonely and helpless to change the situation.
Although each family is different, people who grow up with alcoholic parents often feel alone, unloved, depressed, or burdened by the secret life they lead at home.
It is not possible to stop another person’s drinking or their behavior. But seeking support whenever possible can help. Older children may be able to seek help for themselves.
Here are some ways to find help:
Admit that there is problem. ~ Many children are put in the position of trying to hide the problem or protect their parents. Take control by admitting that there is a problem, even if the parent won’t.
Recognize your feelings ~ Recognizing how a parent’s problem drinking makes you feel can help you from burying your feelings and pretending that everything’s OK.
Find New Role Models ~ Finding new role models can help children learn healthy ways to handle the difficult situation and learn better ways to make good decisions,
Share your Feelings ~ Share your feelings with a friend, but also talk to a trusted adult, such as a family member, parent of a close friend, school counselor, favorite teacher or coach.
Be Aware of Your Own Risks ~ Teenage children of alcoholics are at higher risk of becoming alcoholics themselves. Scientists think this is because of genetics and the environment that kids grow up in. For example, people might learn to drink as a way to avoid fear, boredom, anxiety, sadness, or other unpleasant feelings.
Reach out for Help – Al-Anon/Alateen are two supportive groups that can help. The main goal of these organizations is to help family members understand that they are not responsible for an alcoholic’s drinking problems and that the family members’ recovery does not depend upon the alcoholic’s recovery. They also have a 24 hour hotline at 1-800-344-2666.
Partnership at Drugfree.org has a free helpline as well, and can give support and/or direct a teen to the support they need. Their number is 1-855-DRUGFREE.
Adult Children of Alcoholics
Many adult children often go through life not realizing that their reactions and issues in life may be a result of having grown up in a family with an alcoholic parent. To a greater or lesser degree, our history follows us into adulthood and can have negative consequences in many areas, such as health, work, and relationships.
Adult children of alcoholics follow one or two paths, as they seem to have difficulty navigating the middle road. They either follow the path of trying to be perfect or super-responsible. When they follow this path, they have a strong need to be in control, and fear being out of control.
Or, they are super irresponsible or may even succumb to the disease of addiction themselves. Problems of depression, aggression, or impulsive behavior are not uncommon among adult children of alcoholics.
Understanding, accepting and making peace with your past will help you to move forward in your life, and open your heart to love.
Children of Alcoholics Week is February 12-18th – A celebration of Hope and Healing.
If you know a family with children suffering because their parent or parents are alcoholics, don’t hesitate to reach out to them with your support. To find out more go to National Association of Children of Alcoholics.
Finally, some important points to remember and discuss are that neither the child nor any other family member caused the disease, are able to cure or control the disease.
It is important that all family members take care of themselves and stay healthy.
Communicate your feelings, make healthy choices, celebrate who you are, especially your strengths and abilities as individuals and as a family so that you can live life to the fullest.
Have you been in this situation? What have you done as an adult to make peace with your past? What tips can you add that would help a child of an alcoholic parent?
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