How Growing up With an Alcoholic Parent Shaped Me as an Adult
“Let’s get a drink” is a common phrase used by friends, family and colleagues as part of being social. However for 18 million Americans2, alcohol abuse is a problem invading not only their bodies but their minds and relationships.
Alcoholism affects the loved ones of the alcoholic as much as it affects the alcoholic.
I have been conscious of alcohol abuse and its ravaging effects on families because I grew up with an alcoholic father. It made me particularly sensitive about drinking too much or depending on it as a way to handle my emotions.
I attended Alateen meetings so that I could understand how alcoholism was impacting the way I viewed the world. It definitely influenced my relationship with alcohol and prevented me from falling into alcohol dependence.
I learned in my teens that children of alcoholics had certain common characteristics.
Adult children of alcoholics can have issues with esteem and shame. I know that it took me a long time to work through issues of feeling like I was less than my counterparts.
“They may believe on some level that they did something to deserve the neglect they experienced. I know I felt that way. As adults these children often may suffer from anxiety and/or depression as well,” said Cara Gardenswartz, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Beverly Hills, California, as reported in a WebMD.com article.
For all of my teen years and most of my adult life, I have struggled with issues with esteem and trust. To most people that have met me, that might seem a shocking statement because of my big personality.
Mine was a silent struggle which can be one of the loneliness and of the most damaging. I was used to hiding the truth about my father’s alcohol abuse so it was no different from hiding my low self-esteem with others.
Children of alcoholics have a need to have control of situations or relationships. They don’t like to be vulnerable because they have learned not to trust their caregivers. Gardenswartz said, “If you grow up in a family where everything is unpredictable, you tend to want to hold on to a feeling of control.”
"Children of alcoholics are two to four times more likely than other children to become addicted to alcohol themselves,” states the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
They are much more likely to develop a problem than children who don't grow up in that environment.
There are members of my extended family that also have struggled with alcohol or other addictions as well.
Children of alcoholics are more likely to end up with alcohol-dependent partners as well. According to WebMD.com, “research shows that daughters of alcoholics are more likely to marry alcoholic men.”
“If we have learned as children to love someone with addiction, we will tend to unconsciously seek that out,” said Patricia O'Gorman, PhD, a psychologist in Saranac Lake, New York.
Just because all of this had an impact on us as we were growing up does it have to affect us as adults?
It does only if we are unaware of the patterns we fall into. I have spent time noticing when these behaviors have cropped up in me. When they do, I get help to change my thoughts and behaviors so they don’t impact my social and intimate relationships.
With the right support and understanding, none of these characteristics have to impact your adult relationships and success in life. Seek help if you notice that you are struggling with issues of esteem, anxiety or depression, or any mental or emotional issue.
RUN — don’t walk to your medical professional if you find that you are in an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. If you can’t live a day or week without it, you need immediate attention.
Do it for yourself and do it for the people in your life that are being impacted by your behaviors, especially your children.
Dr. Daemon Jones
This article was originally published on EmpowHer.com.