Adult children of alcoholics suffer long after they have left home. The lingering impact of the effects alcoholism has on a family can have life-long consequences. Alcoholism is a common issue for many families. It disrupts the healthy functioning of the individual that suffers from it, and the emotional well-being of all those around them. Children who grow up with care givers that abuse alcohol have a greater tendency to suffer from mental health issues as adults. They can often exhibit issues with co-dependency, poor coping skills, low self-esteem, difficulty maintaining healthy relationships, and have difficulty with personal, work, or life boundaries. Adult children of alcoholics often find themselves to be “people-pleasers,” and struggle to find their own voice. Children raised with alcoholics learned from very early on to become “reactors,” and due to the inconsistent temperature of their home environment, they learn to survive based on the needs of others, rather than based on themselves.
Founder of the Adult Children of Alcoholics Movement, Janet Geringer Woititz lists thirteen traits to look for in adult children of alcoholics.
Do any of these characteristics resonate with you? For many, adult children of alcoholics are fully aware that their family dynamic is dysfunctional but are unaware of just how much their dysfunctional family has affected them. Many adult children journey through life struggling with basic life skills and the consequences that derive from growing up in such a dysfunctional dynamic, however most fail to make the connection that their struggle is a setback caused by their upbringing in an alcoholic home.
Roughly 45%, or 76 million people, of the US population have been exposed to alcoholism in the family in one way or another; meaning about 1 in 5 children grow up living with an alcoholic. According to the Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization (WSO), the term “adult children” refers to adults who were raised in alcoholic homes, “who exhibit identifiable traits that reveal past abuse or neglect.”
Young children and adolescents who grow up in a home where alcoholism is present will most likely progress into adulthood with psychological and emotional scarring that developed during their adolescent years. When a child is raised in a family where alcohol plays a role, the child is raised in a family full of pandemonium, contradiction, irrational thinking, and indistinct roles. Due to the family dynamics, a child of an alcoholic grows up believing he or she cannot trust anyone, cannot feel anything, and cannot say anything. These three rules lead them to exhibit signs of depression, anxiety, and compulsive tendencies.
Oftentimes, adult children of alcoholics find that they lacked a childhood, grew up too fast, or had to raise themselves. As adults, these individuals often struggle to find joy in simple pleasures, maintain healthy, supportive relationships, and find it challenging to identify good feelings on a consistent basis.
In the past, addiction has been viewed as a behavioral hindrance, but additional research and studies have revealed that addiction should be regarded as a chronic brain disease. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, addiction is explained as a primary, chronic brain disorder that is not the result of additional causes such as emotional or psychological setbacks.
Alcoholic patterns range from an exorbitant amount of drinking throughout the day to a set amount of days binging followed by phases of abstinence. Although alcohol is categorized as a depressant, the lack of inhibition can generate an invigorating effect leading many alcoholics to be able to function routinely throughout their days for many decades.
A person who is codependent is someone who focuses too much on others, at the determent of their own well being. As an adult child of an alcoholic, you probably spend your days neglecting your own needs and constantly worrying about your suffering loved one. You put an immense amount of effort into keeping them out of trouble, alive and breathing, and emotionally consolidated. Although your intentions may be coming from a good place, it’s important to recognize that your actions and behaviors may have the reverse effect on your loved one. By perpetually taking care of them and watching their every move, you inhibit them from apprehending that they have a problem and need help.
The process of healing from the trauma of growing up in an unstable environment takes time. The shadow of a disturbed and unfortunate childhood follows us until we find the courage to confront it.
Its important to build a support network that will assist you in learning how you may have adapted to a dysfunctional setting and examine negative behaviors you may have adopted in order to survive. Its also important through the healing process that you give yourself credit where credit is due. Give yourself credit for the determination and strength you’ve displayed throughout your upbringing.
(This article was contributed by Ashley Campo, UCF psychology and counseling major.)
If you, or someone you know, is an adult child of an alcoholic who can benefit from individual counseling to work on current, past, or future concerns, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or give Orlando Thrive Therapy a call at 407-592-8997 for a free 15-20 minute phone consultation now. Our therapists will help you to determine if counseling is right for you, and how counseling could help.
Heather Oller is a licensed Orlando therapist at Orlando Thrive Therapy, Coaching & Counseling who specializes in counseling Orlando couples, individuals, and families who are seeking changes in their lives. She has been a mental health professional for over 17 years and is a practicing Orlando counselor that specializes in conflict resolution for couples. You can contact her for an appointment or call 407-592-8997 for more information.