Adult children of alcoholics suffer far beyond those traumatic years of watching their parents destroy themselves. There are damages left behind.

Statistics are startling. The truth is, over 6 million children grow up with one or both parents stricken by alcoholism. In 1970, ALCOA (adult children of alcoholics) was formed, which helped people cope with their traumatic childhoods. Adult children of alcoholics struggled in many areas and needed all the support they could get.

How childhood changed them

As a child, adult children of alcoholics experience symptoms of distress due to the atmosphere. These children may go through nocturnal enuresis (bed-wetting), nightmares, or even separation anxiety.

Their surroundings are chaotic, with a rotating sense of calm and fear. This is because when the parents weren’t intoxicated, they would be irritable or logical, but when they are intoxicated, they are irrational and possibly angry. In truth, the child never knew what to expect from day to day.

When they grow up, much of this upbringing, sadly, comes with them in one form or the other. As adults, they exhibit signs of past abuse. Here are the ways adult children of alcoholics suffer as adults.

1. Avoidance

Adult children of alcoholics try to avoid any sort of conflict. That’s because they are afraid of certain types of people or situations. They don’t know how they would react to any sort of aggression or anger, for instance, coming from people in authority or those with a strong personality. So, they just avoid most people, in general, to eliminate this from happening at all.

2. Approval seeking

There is always a sense of seeking approval from those whose childhood was damaged by alcoholism. Because they were always criticized and punished due to the mood swings that come with their parent’s alcoholism, they tend to seek out any positive reinforcement possible.

Sometimes this approval seeking causes them to suffer from low-self-esteem when approval cannot be found. It’s incredibly hard for them to accept approval from themselves without remembering how others said they were flawed in childhood.

3. Too serious

Because of the unorganized and irresponsible things that may have happened during their parent’s alcoholic episodes, the adult child tends to become way too serious.

Adult children of alcoholic parents may shy away from social events or other entertainment because they feel it is “silly” and may lead to bad decisions. They have taken the horror of their childhood and built walls to keep the “bad things” out.  It’s a good thing to be responsible, but it’s also a bad thing to be too serious all the time.

4. Intimacy problems

The thing about intimacy is that it’s actually a positive form of loss of control. To someone who has endured the suffering of alcoholic parents, they see a loss of control as a bad thing.

Where intimacy is concerned, adult children of alcoholic parents may find it difficult to let go and enjoy the intimacy of a relationship, thus causing tension and unhappiness for both parties.

5. Low self-esteem

No matter how well you’ve done in life, if you watched your parents struggle with alcoholism, you probably suffer from low self-esteem. This is due to all the criticism you received while they were intoxicated.

Adult children of alcoholic parents usually go through years of emotional and verbal abuse, and as adults, they have an extremely hard time having respect for themselves.

6. Numb

Unfortunately, some adults become numb after suffering a childhood with alcoholic parents. They have difficulty expressing emotions or talking about problems.

My son, for example, doesn’t feel sadness well. Although he can express happiness, when something bad happens, he doesn’t seem to react. He even told me that he did not understand why he was like that.

His father was an alcoholic and for years, my son watched our life being turned upside down. In response to all the chaotic mess, he just learned to shut down his negative emotions. Now, he struggles to tap back into them.

Can adult children of alcoholic parents heal?

It seems like a dim prognosis, I know, but I have to hope that adults like this can learn how to heal from their traumatic pasts.

My son goes through things now as an adult, some good and some bad, and I see the influence of his father’s drinking. Then I see the changes he has made since high school and I see hope.

For some, it may be easy to heal from these things, while others, almost impossible. If you’re struggling with what your parents have done, then by all means, seek help. There are many resources available to help you process what you’re going through, and yes, sometimes you might not even recognize the signs. I leave you with a ray of hope.

Just try, stay strong, and get to know yourself better. Sometimes the answer lies within a growing and a loving self-image.



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