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The Transition House Blog

How growing up with an alcoholic parent affects your life

Posted by Jennifer Dellasanta on Apr 21, 2017 11:37:14 AM

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The effects of growing-up with an alcoholic parent can be debilitating and long-lasting. Adult children of alcoholics may experience denial, impulse control, and depression. They are also more likely to become alcoholics themselves.

Substance abuse, particularly alcoholism, is an unfortunately common occurrence in American households. An estimated 76 million Americans will experience alcohol addiction within their family. One-third of those will be children with alcoholic parents.

It’s important to know that this cycle is not permanent, and can end with the help of therapy and counseling. If you are suffering from any of these common symptoms, know you are not alone.


Denial

Alcoholics commonly use denial as a coping mechanism to avoid having to face their addiction. Children growing up with alcoholic parents learn this behavior, and in adulthood, may find they also use denial as a coping mechanism. This denial might appear when trying to cope with anxiety, depression, or low self-esteem. It’s okay to talk openly about suffering from these symptoms or illnesses, but adult children of alcoholics often struggle with overcoming denial that prevents them from seeking treatment in the first place.

Low Self-Esteem

Adult children of alcoholic parents often suffer from low self-esteem. This is a common byproduct of the emotional neglect and abuse found in households where substance abuse and alcoholism occurs. Family roles can be skewed in the home, with children having to take on more responsibility than is appropriate or healthy. In adulthood, they may be harsh critics of themselves and will often require the approval of others to feel positive about themselves. This can lead to co-dependence and unhealthy relationships.

Trouble Forming Healthy Relationships

Childhood is the time in our lives where we learn what appropriate, healthy relationships are like. This doesn’t happen for children with alcoholic parents. When a parent struggles with substance abuse, children are often required to deny their own emotions in lieu of having to respond to the unpredictable outbursts of the adults around them. This unhealthy foundation can affect how they form relationships in adulthood. Children of alcoholics are more likely to marry alcoholics later in life, continuing the cycle of emotional abuse and neglect.

Poor Impulse Control

Households where alcoholism is present are often chaotic and unpredictable. Coupled with being conditioned to use denial to cope with emotions, children of alcoholic parents will often find they have difficulty with impulse control in adulthood. As adults, they take an unhealthy, unrealistic, all-or-nothing approach to life - either everything is okay or nothing is. This creates a pattern of disappointment, which reinforces a poor self-image and low self-esteem.


It’s important for adult children of alcoholics to know that the emotional pain they feel now is a response to events that have happened in their past. There is a way to move on, though, through group therapy or counseling. If you’re ready to live a happier, more fulfilling life, start with contacting us. Our counselors in Central Florida are ready to help you create a brighter future.

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Topics: Alcohol Dependence, Substance Abuse

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The Transition House is a behavioral health organization serving the public in Florida and Tennessee.

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