Effects of Alcoholic Parents

Looking at the problem of the children of alcoholics and drug users may require something like bifocals. You need to see the problems that your dependence has caused them; but at the same time, you should be trying to recognize the ill effects that having an alcoholic or drug-abusing parent has had on you.

Many of the descriptions of your children’s emotional problems and pain will also describe the problems and pain you have felt—but probably didn’t realize it at the time.

Full Circle

Many alcoholics and drug users are astonished when they recognize their childhood selves in their own children today. The more you can learn about children of alcoholics and addicts, the more you will learn about yourself—and the more it will help both their recovery and yours.

Royal Life Centers offers an education and treatment program for adults who grew up in alcoholic or addicted families. By taking an objective look at his or her family of origin, each patient learns to identify feelings that require expression and behavior patterns that need to be changed.

Repressed, “stuffed” feelings might include many of the following:

  • Shame
  • Anger
  • Rage
  • Resentment
  • Fear
  • Terror
  • Guilt
  • Hopelessness
  • Helplessness
  • Insecurity
  • Inadequacy
  • Anxiety
  • Low self-esteem
  • Fear of abandonment

Self-defeating behavior patterns might include these:

  • Denial
  • Approval seeking
  • Isolation
  • Compulsions (regarding food, work, money, or sex)
  • Inappropriate relationships
  • Controlling
  • Caretaking
  • Perfectionism
  • Procrastination
  • Blaming
  • Self-criticism
  • Difficulty intimacy
  • Difficulty with authority
  • Difficulty setting limits
  • Inability to make commitments
  • Fear of failure
  • Repeating the victim role

Adult Child of an Alcoholic : ACOA

No two children of the chemically dependent are alike, any more than any other two children are alike, nor any two sets of parents are alike. Just as no attempt to define “the addictive personality” has ever met with universal agreement, no child can be made to fit a precisely defined picture of “the child of an alcoholic or addict.”

Yet all such children do grow up with certain very similar family patterns and influences, and so they do share many of the shame problems and personality patterns. Two things in particular are almost universal: these children grow up with shame, and they are taught to hide it.

One adult child of an alcoholic parent spoke for almost all such families when he said, “In our family there were two rules:

The first rule was: Never air your dirty laundry in public; never talk about family matters outside the house.

As soon as you got the hang of that, you learned rule two: Never talk about it inside the house either.”

Hiding Your Emotions

Such children also grow up with sadness, which they also learn to hide, too. This rigidly imposed silence and denial leads them to develop rigid behavior patterns that prevent them from changing and growing—until they get help. They also grow up not knowing the difference between love and need, between relationships with give-and-take and relationships in which one person always needs to be in control.

Because they don’t grow up learning healthy patterns of behavior, they have to invent ways of feeling as if they have some control over events, people, and their environment. These patterns of behavior develop into personality types which allow them to function in their dysfunctional families, but which prove self-destructive in the outside world.

Reach Out

If you or someone you know is struggling with a substance abuse problem, please reach out to our addiction specialists for guidance and support, at (877)-RECOVERY.

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