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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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. J

    Not often that you see an article discussing this. I am one of those children from the 1970’s and I can honestly say what you say is true…. however with one correction. It is not what our parents did to us….. it is what was done to them also in a different time and society…..things change over time in society where help is now available with support programs, where before there was none.

    For all children there is hope and as anything in life… we must work at it, knowing that just for today we take one little step at a time. We all have much to offer and can help the next generations…… not to suffer as long as we did.

    1. Sherrie

      I can see what you’re saying here. As I said in my previous reply, my husband at the time was an alcoholic. BUT, he grew up with alcoholics who thought it was normal to be stinking drunk every chance they got. It was normal to be drunk every weekend, not to mention during the week when they took the notion. They did not just drink socially. They kept going until they could barely stand. This is what my ex-husband watched as he grew up. It was normal for this type of behavior, so he did the same thing at the early age of, hmm, maybe 12. By the time I met him at 19, he was already a seasoned drinker.

      It really can be cultural, and I don’t say this to say that drinking is bad. It can be okay at times. It’s when the drink brings out something else which hurts other people, that’s when it’s a problem. Some people just cannot handle this well.

  2. Gary Hynous

    Hi, My remarks are from personal experience…not what I read in an abnormal psyc. text. In the 1940’s, when I was a young man it was de rigeour to stop at the local family tavern after work and have a few drinks with the guys you worked with. As a result of this, my dad became an alcoholic. For years I would hear mom and dad arguing as dad was intoxicated and mom was upset with him. Many years later, about 40, I was drinking pretty heavily too. This got me an expensive DUI and overnight in jail. Not a pretty picture. Having come to Calif. in the late 60″s to finish ungrad. school my drugs of choice were pot and psychedelics which most of my friends were experimenting with. Well my mind’s still fairly sound based on a self check. Alcohol may be a good social lubricant but be damn careful about how much and how often you make a trip to the liquor cabinet!

    1. Sherrie

      My negative experience with alcohol comes from a marriage which lasted for two decades. I watched a man with a lot of potential damage his life and the lives of many of his friends and family due to drinking. Drinking, in itself, is not bad. It’s the lack of control and lack of moderation which changes us into altogether different creatures. The pain that my children and I endured due to their father’s alcohol consumption is still with me. There are triggers which occur at the smell of whiskey, or the sound of loud arrogant voices.

      No, my experience with this also does not come from textbooks or such. I watched an otherwise docile man turn into something evil about three nights out of a week on average. There was always this dread when waiting for him to come home. Would he be drinking, or would he be sober? We never knew and this too has left strange anxiety. 🙁

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