Alcoholic parents aren’t just a nuisance to themselves. Being an alcoholic can actually not only affect the person who drinks, but also their offspring as well.

Personally, I didn’t grow up with alcoholic parents, but my children did. My ex-husband was an alcoholic and I remember many times, trying to shield my children from his drinking.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t hide his habits all the time. It wasn’t until later in their lives that I noticed the effects that his drinking had upon their psyche.

Damages and lessons

Alcoholic parents leave scars on their children. Although they also teach their children lessons about drinking through their bad examples, they also cause dysfunctional traits to develop in their children as well.

My children experienced both these things – the negative and the positive aspects of these life lessons. Let’s take a detailed look at what alcoholic parents leave to their children.

1. Trust issues

Children of alcoholic parents often develop trust issues, just like children of abusive parents. Unfortunately, alcoholics often make promises and then break those promises due to the preferential needs of their addiction. Alcoholics also lie, hide things, and keep secrets from the family.

These traits cultivate a severe lack of trust for adults of alcoholic parents. Trust issues stemming from childhood trauma such as this develop in many areas of adult life.

2. The need for constant approval

Most of the time, adults who had alcoholic parents will constantly seek approval in life. This is due to the lack of confidence and love when growing up. Instead of parents making their children the first priority, they would put alcohol first.

Children learned to try everything in their power to get the attention of their parents. My son did. Many times, he craved time with his father just to get a few moments between work, social activities and the drink. As an adult, he tends to seek constant approval for his accomplishments.

3. Relationship issues

Let’s face it. Alcoholism is a dysfunction in any kind of relationship, even intimate ones. Children of alcoholics will suffer later in life with relationships because they suffered from their parents. This is why:

If you cannot trust your father or mother, and you feel neglected from their constant addiction to alcohol, then you probably will not be able to trust your partner in an adult relationship.

For most people who’ve experienced trauma as a child, this hardship, lack of trust, and emotional detachment will translate into adulthood. It takes a lot of work to heal from past traumas of this sort and cultivate a normal adult relationship with another.

4. Repeat bad behaviors

Just as adult alcoholics exhibit bad behaviors, so can their children. Sometimes, children of alcoholic parents grow to become alcoholics as well. If not, they may act out in other ways like cheating, stealing or being violent.

What they witnessed as a child can sometimes be a blueprint for how they think they are supposed to behave as an adult. If no one takes the time to teach them better, then this is all they have to go by.

5. Too serious or perfectionists

On the other hand, children of alcoholics can also become extremely serious about all aspects of life. It’s a reaction to the chaos of their childhood. It’s also a direct desire to be a complete opposite of their alcoholic parents. Although this may seem like a good trait, it can be a negative aspect as well.

Being too serious can limit the fun of life and can also affect your health. The pressure of holding in anger or sadness can affect your heart and your digestive system, not to mention your mental health. Although it’s important to improve yourself, it’s also just as important to enjoy life to it’s fullest as well.

6. Fear of anger

Children of alcoholic parents may grow up to fear confrontations with others. Even when there is a need to face someone in order to get an issue out in the open, an adult with an alcoholic influenced childhood will still avoid this.

To them, it’s better to let things go than to face the possibility of an angry conversation with another person. Childhood, for them, was filled with angry outbursts, and this is the one thing they wish to avoid at all costs.

7. Anxiety and PTSD

Children of alcoholics often grow to be anxious adults. As children, they often experienced frightening situations, loud voices, and numerous drunken threats. As adults, every situation becomes a much bigger problem than it truly is, all due to the fear and worry invoked by anxiety.

Children with this background can also grow up and experience a different sort of fear. PTSD is not just something that comes from wartime. This disorder can also come from a traumatic childhood, including the abuse associated with alcoholism.

Just like soldiers coming back from the war, an adult who has grown up with alcoholic parents can experience flashbacks, jolts of fear, and panic attacks.

Healing and Learning

My children are strong. They do know what it’s like to have an alcoholic parent, but they also know what it’s like to grow from this damage. There are scars, but I do believe that they will know how to make something beautiful out of what they have been through. Living with alcoholic parents can’t be easy, but healing is possible.

I leave you with hope and a promise that you’re not alone in your sufferings. Each thing we go through is a mighty lesson for us, and maybe for others who need our wisdom. Keep growing, keep standing strong, and by all means, keep learning.



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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Kelly Marie

    I enjoyed this view immensely.

    As a child growing up in a very alcohol heavy environment I can definitely see some similarities, as can my housemate who grew up with an alcoholic father. (And isn’t it the case that we gravitated towards one another?)

    However we found it interesting how it has manifested differently in both of us but how we can also relate to each of the points on varying scales.

    1. Sherrie

      My ex-husband is an alcoholic and I spend two decades of my life experiencing that. It truly is something that will change your life. In many ways, our children were affected and I cannot imagine what this will mean to them one day.

  2. Kate

    Thank you for this article. It is helpful to know that others have survived this, and how it shapes what we become as adults. What I’d love to see is some articles about how to release yourself from this kind of relationship in adulthood with an alcoholic partner, after experiencing this as a child.

  3. Nick

    My mom was an alcoholic. I think this was one of the main reasons why I was born 2 months prematurely. She hid wine coolers under my bed and drank all night. She’d be passed out all day and lie about it. ” your dad snores so loud it keeps me up so I must sleep all day.” She drove drunk with me in the car a few times and almost crashed. My dad wasnt a full blown alcoholic but a drunk and would come home at night to start a fight. My room was next door so I heard everything. They divorced and dad left only to be seen every other weekend. My brother and her would get into physical confrontations. He also bullied me verbally and physically. Not a very pleasant home was it. She died 2 weeks after 9/11. I walked in and found her dead. Lucky me. I could go on and on. But, you get the deal.

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