Growing up in an environment where one or both parents suffer from alcoholism drastically impacts on a child’s development. If you are, or know someone in this position, it is important to seek help and support from the right sources. Gaining a better understanding of alcoholism and how it affects the sufferer and their loved ones is helpful to anyone that is affected by this destructive and life threatening illness. This article will provide you with the facts on alcoholism, how it can affect you and how you can get help and support, firstly for yourself and secondly for the person who is alcoholic.
If you are wondering if your parent is alcoholic, it will help you to know exactly what an alcoholic is; you can then decide for yourself whether or not you and they are likely to need professional help and also recognise when a drink problem becomes full blown alcoholism.
What Is Alcoholism?
Alcoholism is an illness that causes the sufferer to drink regardless of consequences to physical and mental health, relationships with others, finances and security. Often misconstrued as a selfish lifestyle choice, the causes of alcoholism run much deeper than that. Medically, alcoholism is now recognised as a chronic relapsing brain disease. Those that suffer, often see the world very differently from those that don’t; they are ill equipped to deal with life’s challenges and unable to manage their own emotions. They are compelled to drink as a way of coping. This does not make the fact that they are alcoholic okay, or absolve them of the responsibility for their actions. It does, however, offer an explanation as to why they are unable to stop of their own accord. There is very little anyone can do to help the sufferer until they become willing to accept they are alcoholic and seek appropriate help. For family and loved ones this process can take years and in many cases it sadly doesn’t happen at all. There is no doubt that loving an alcoholic is hard and often very painful, those that are close, such as children and spouses are usually gravely affected by the alcoholics behaviours. They are exposed to extreme fear, the need to take control and traumatic events on a regular basis. Alcoholism doesn’t just affect the individual sufferer; the whole family becomes ill as a direct result and needs help to recover.
There is no one cause of alcoholism, but the illness is characterised by the following symptoms:
An alcoholic will struggle to see the truth around their drinking. Despite warnings from doctors or concerns voiced by family members; they feel others are over reacting or their concerns are unwarranted.
An alcoholic is often secretive around their drinking, deep down they often know that they have a problem, but can’t see a life without alcohol in it. They will often hide supplies and empty cans or bottles to avoid being confronted. They struggle with honesty – with themselves and with others, leading to a great deal of mistrust for all that are involved.
Loss of control
An alcoholic often has a knack for getting intoxicated at the worst possible time. Whilst under the influence, they are unpredictable, irresponsible and unreliable. They will regularly drink themselves into a state of incoherence or unconsciousness.
Detached from reality
Rather than seeing what they have and what they stand to lose as a result of drinking, the alcoholic will often focus on past negative events and blame others for their problems. They often feel that the world and people in general are against them and have a great difficulty in accepting responsibility for their own actions.
As a result of drinking, the alcoholic’s life becomes very unmanageable. Personal responsibilities, family and financial affairs are often neglected in favour of drinking. This is usually what hurts family the most.
Frequent attempts to stop
For some alcoholics, the truth of their drinking is too blatant to deny. They may genuinely want to stop and make attempts to do so. However, they fail to make the necessary changes within themselves and seek professional help to achieve this. This leads to an endless cycle of drinking binges, remorse, guilt, blame and unhealthy behaviours. Again, this affects children and family deeply, as their hopes are raised and dashed time and time again.
What Is Normal?
It is difficult to define what normal is; what is not normal is a parent that seemingly chooses to drink over the welfare of his or her own child. To the child raised by an alcoholic, there is a certain acceptance of the environment they are brought up in. This is because that is the only environment that they have come to know. Exposure to non-alcoholic families may well cause them to draw comparisons and search for answers. Why is it mum or dad cant be there for them? Why do they continue to drink when it is destroying them? Why is it they cant just be a “normal” loving family and do “normal” things together? What is it that is so bad about them that drives mum or dad to the bottle, time and time again? These heartbreaking questions will never be answered; alcoholism is a compulsion that often cannot be broken without professional intervention.
Is It Me?
If you are a child of an alcoholic, you may well have asked yourself if you are the cause of their alcoholism. Whilst there can be many reasons for a parent becoming alcoholic; i.e. genetic predisposition, learned behavior or trauma…a child is not one of the reasons. You may find yourself tip toeing around them, trying to please them, making excuses for them and even assuming the parental role and caring for them. All because you love them and want them to love you. Your thoughts may well be preoccupied with their well-being…What are they doing? Are they safe? Where are they? Are they hurt or dead… When affected by an alcoholic, these are not dramatic questions. You may well live in a constant state of anxiety and fear of what will happen next.
If you have a parent that is an alcoholic, remember:
- You are not the cause of their alcoholism
- You cannot stop their alcoholism or make them better
- You are not responsible for their well-being
- They are suffering from an illness that makes them very sick and unpredictable. Over time it will only get progressively worse without the correct help.
- You can get help and support for yourself and learn to take care of you, regardless of what you parent does.
The Impact of Alcoholic Parenting
If you are the child of an alcoholic, whether you realise it or not, you will have developed certain coping mechanisms and behaviours during childhood that would have kept you protected in that environment. There is even a recognised condition referred to as Adult Child of Alcoholic syndrome or ACoA, where the child of the alcoholic adopts many of the same traits and behaviours of the alcoholic parent. As an adult, and in a healthy environment, these behaviours and traits are redundant and destructive; yet still they remain and are a part of who you are. Recognising that they no longer serve you and being willing to embrace change often only comes through pain…your pain. Often professional help and support is required to help you to disregard your old behaviours in favour of healthy new ones. It can be terrifying at first; there is a degree of comfortability in holding on to the familiar, but with this process of letting go and change comes great freedom from the past and the ability to live and enjoy life once again.
Children of alcoholic parents often display traits and characteristics that are harmful to them and to others in their adult life. If you can resonate with any of the following, it is important to seek help. Counselling and trauma therapy are often very helpful in dealing with and processing the past, but for permanent change and growth, many benefit from an on-going recovery programme and support from others who have experienced similar to them.
Personality traits of Adult Children of Alcoholics
The need to be in control
Children of alcoholics often hide their thoughts and feelings from others. There is a great need to stay in control of emotions and not appear vulnerable. They also feel the need to control others as a way of feeling safe and diminishing the anxiety and fear that they have come to know.
Fear of feeling
As a child they will have been used to hiding their feelings from their parents, siblings , authority figures and friends; even denying themselves of feelings by dismissing them or blocking them out. They fear a complete loss of control if they are to start exploring these feelings. This can cause them to feel anxious, depressed and struggle in their personal relationships.
Inability to relax and have fun
Having being raised in a dysfunctional environment and living with the constant worry and sense of responsibility to the alcoholic parent, adult children of alcoholics often find it hard to relax and enjoy life. They frequently feel tense and anxious as a result.
Low self esteem and self worth
As a child, they rarely felt worthy of love or of their parent’s sobriety; this fosters the belief that they do not deserve good things to happen to them or that they are unlovable. They will often settle for ill treatment in adulthood from others, believing that this is all they are worth.
Children of alcoholics often live in fear of conflict; this lends them to striving for constant perfection and approval seeking behaviour. They are often oversensitive and take things very personally. Unable to deal with rejection and criticism can cause them to avoid letting anyone close.
The need to be needed
As a child, they many assume the parental role of their alcoholic parent, taking on the burden of adult responsibility. Being needed gives them a purpose and worth; it helps them to feel in control. When the parent gets well or no longer needs the child, they search out other dysfunctional relationships in order to satisfy this need.
Fear of authority
Alcoholics notoriously struggle to accept and face responsibility; this behavioural characteristic is passed on to their children. The children learn to be quiet and hide the truth, to put on a brave face. They fear that authority figures are against them or fear upsetting their parent could cause conflict and make things worse. They are fearful of trusting anyone, especially of those in authority who have the ability to enforce the law or remove them from the family home.
Forming a healthy relationship for an adult child of an alcoholic is hard. They fear intimacy, the need to feel needed and to be in control. Often they will end up in a relationship with someone who mirrors their parent. They don’t know what a healthy and loving relationship is. This can lead them to staying in destructive relationships where they feel they can save the other person, or hopping from one relationship to another in order to avoid intimacy. They will often crave chaos and excitement in their relationships, as this what they have become accustomed to.
Substance misuse/alcohol issues
Children of alcoholics will usually go one way or another. They will either avoid alcohol and drugs altogether, or use them to block their feelings and as a way of coping. Rarely do they have a balanced and healthy attitude towards substances and will often go to the extreme of all or nothing. Being raised by an alcoholic parent also means that you are three times more likely to go on to develop alcoholism or a substance misuse problem.
As you can see from the above, being raised by an alcoholic parent, greatly impacts on a child’s healthy development and the learned defences and behaviours are often carried into adulthood. Recovery is a long and on-going process, but it is entirely achievable with the right attitude and willingness to change. The first step to change is admitting the problem; the second is seeking appropriate help and following it up. If you need help but are still unsure where to access the correct support, call us and we will point you in the right direction. We are experienced in treating alcoholics and in helping their families. Even if your parent doesn’t want to change, you can regardless of your individual circumstances. If your parent is willing to accesses rehab treatment for their alcoholism, we can take care of all of the arrangements and support you throughout the whole process. We are dedicated to supporting the family of the individual we treat.
Call us now, or chat to us live 24/7 more information on our treatment services and how you can access support.
To the child:
If you are a child of an alcoholic parent, please speak to someone about your situation. You may be feeling very frightened that exposing your family life will result in your being removed from your parent or parents. This only happens in the most extreme cases; the likely outcome is that you and your parent(s) will receive help and support. There are many organisations that you can speak to, who will offer you support over the phone; or, speak to a trusted family member or teacher. Alcoholism causes secrets and affects everyone in the family. You don’t have to deal with this alone. You are not betraying your parent by asking for help; in fact it is likely that this may help them to see the truth and take some positive steps towards changing. The following organisations are set up to help you; they understand what you are going through; they will listen without judgment and help and support you:
Freephone : 0800 358 3456
Freephone : 0800 1111
To the young adult:
If you are the young adult of an alcoholic parent, please realise that you are not alone. You cannot save or change them, but you can make healthy choices and learn how to care for yourself. As a child growing up in an alcoholic environment, it is likely that you will have had to assume more responsibility than you should. Children of alcoholics often suffer from anxiety, depression and isolation. It doesn’t have to be this way; there is help and support available for you. Speak to your doctor, teacher or a trusted family member about how you are feeling. It is important not to feel the shame and guilt on behalf of your alcoholic parents. You can learn to have healthy boundaries, make healthy choices and have healthy loving relationships with the correct support and help. The following organisations are set up specifically to support you:
Freephone : 0800 358 3456
To the adult child:
Having been brought up by an alcoholic parent, it is likely you have adopted some unhealthy behaviours and patterns as a result. Perhaps you struggle to form lasting relationships, have a sense of mistrust of others, and suffer with anxiety, depression or even a substance misuse problem yourself. You may have lost focus and be unable to take care of yourself, giving all your time and effort to your alcoholic parent. Perhaps you have isolated and not been able to talk about it to anyone; you feel the full burden of you parents illness. Whether you are a child or an adult, there is help available and change is possible. You can, with support, learn how to live a life, free from their addiction. Speak to your Doctor about Counselling services, confide in a close friend or work colleague. You don’t have to suffer in silence. You can call us direct and speak in confidence to one of our friendly advisors, or contact any of the following organisations that will offer you free help and support:
Freephone : 0800 358 3456
Adult Children of Alcoholics
If you are concerned for a child of an alcoholic:
If you know a child that may be suffering as a result of an alcoholic parent, it is important to take action and report the matter to the appropriate authorities who can intervene if it is deemed necessary. If you are related to, or a friend of the alcoholic parent, you may feel you are betraying them. However it is important to focus on what is right for the child involved and ensure that they get the help that they need. Turning a blind eye to a situation where a child could be endangered can have disastrous consequences and will only enable the situation to continue as it is. The following associations can support you in reporting your concerns to the correct authorities:
Freephone : 0800 358 3456
Child Welfare Information Gateway
If you are suffering domestic violence at the hands of an alcoholic parent, it is vital you seek help immediately. Domestic violence and alcoholism are not going to be resolved without professional help and intervention. It is vital that you keep yourself safe from harm and speak to someone about your situation without delay. Keeping it a secret or protecting your parent, is not going to help anyone, especially you and puts your life in danger. Please call or speak to one of the following organisations or a trusted adult immediately:
Helpline: 0808 2000 247
Helpline: 0808 801 0331
Child Welfare Information Gateway
Free Helpline: 116 123