The parentified child

Often children of alcoholic parents don’t get to just be kids. They’re saddled with responsibilities, worries, and shame from an early age. They don’t have friends over because it’s not allowed, they’re ashamed, or home is unpredictable and they can’t plan ahead.

Adult children of alcoholics (ACOA) remember being giving tons of freedom or material possessions, but there wasn’t connection, supervision, or consequences. On the one hand, kids certainly like staying up as late as they want and playing unlimited video games, but they don’t feel safe when there isn’t supervision and rules.

Sometimes children of alcoholic families don’t feel loved. When kids aren’t given positive attention or encouragement, they feel damaged and unworthy of love. If an alcoholic parent is too busy drinking or passed out to show up for the school pay or basketball game, children internalize this as, “I don’t matter.” And nothing hurts more than feeling unloved and unwanted by your parents.

These effects can be experienced as feeling anxious and fearful, expecting perfection and being very hard on yourself and others, difficulty relaxing and having fun, being overly responsible, difficulty trusting and have intimate relationships, feeling overwhelmed by parenthood and having trouble setting rules/consequences for your own children.

If you feel like you didn’t have a childhood because of your parents’ alcoholism, you are not alone. Many ACOAs feel that having an alcoholic parent had a profound and lasting impact on them. Others don’t think it had any impact at all. For many it’s not until they reach adulthood or become parents themselves that they realize the effects of growing up in an alcoholic family.

Source: Sharon Martin, LCSW (2017), Psych Central Blog, Happily Imperfect



The ACOA Cycle

There’s an old adage, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result.  I couldn’t help thinking I must be nuts.  I kept picking the same type of man (drinkers, smokers, and basically unreliable), not realizing they all had the same attributes of my father.  I hate these traits, by the way.  So why was I drawn to them?

Richard Taite, Author, CEO and Founder of the Cliffside Malibu Treatment Center says the fallout of drug and alcohol addiction in the family can carry on for a lifetime.  If either or both parents used, the odds are that you (or your spouse) will too.  Why?  Because human beings have a tendency to recreate the homes we had as children.  If your life was chaotic and tumultuous as a child, it’s a good bet that you’ll either drink like your parents or create the chaos in your home or you’ll marry a drinker who will make your world a living nightmare – the same nightmare you lived as a child.

ACOA awareness is crucial to help people make better and more informed choices when entering into relationships.

Hi, I’m Liz Hawkins and I’m an Adult Child of an Alcoholic.


Loving someone with ACOA Trauma Syndrome

Some of you may be concerned about how angry, toxic behavior patterns, and poor communication style have affected your lives and love relationships.  Many don’t understand the origin of these behaviors, and can’t change what you don’t understand.

Riana Milne specializes in an area called – ACOA (Adult Child of an Alcoholic) Personality Trauma Syndrome; working with adult clients (and their partners) who suffered trauma as children.  Strangely enough, it is not a condition or a Personality Disorder described in the DSM – IV; the Diagnostic book for Mental Health Therapists.  There is an ACA – Adult Children of Alcoholics 12 step program founded on the belief that family dysfunction is a disease that infected us as children, and affects us as adults.

There are nine categories of trauma:

  1. Having an addicted parent – to drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, porn, pills, etc.
  2. Being emotionally abused
  3. Being verbally abused
  4. Being physically abused, molested, or raped
  5. Being abandoned.
  6. If you were adopted, part of the foster care system, or needed to live with another relative due to family hardship
  7. A sibling had trauma (medical issues, an addiction, or required special care)
  8. You endured personal trauma (bullying, medical issue, a physical challenge)
  9. Family trauma – poverty, many moves due to military, parent incarcerated, loss of home by flood or fire, domestic violence, etc.

Toxic adult relationships and many adult addictions occur due to the aftermath of these childhood traumas.  ACOAs often have successful careers and hold it together on the job; the real dysfunction emerges within their love relationships.  Poor coping mechanisms (like shutting down emotionally if afraid, or just the opposite – yelling and screaming with anger when frustrated, to control or intimidate your partner, or get your needs met) are all ACOA behaviors.  Ongoing anxiety, depression, impulsiveness, signs of extreme stress under normal circumstances, panic attacks, perfectionism of your partner, high sex drive or need for attention from the opposite sex, addictions and feelings of abandonment…are just a few of the faulty behaviors, way of thinking or being, that ACOAs have trouble with.  Adults often try to self-medicate with alcohol, pot, or various pills to calm themselves down, or tolerate their abuse or depression; which often leads to an addiction.

ACOAs often attract an ACOA partner.  Their initial dating is full of intense closeness, dramatic romance, affection, and they seek commitment right away.  This could look like a great start to exclusive dating; however, within 3-6 months, signs of jealousy, control, intimidation and mind-games often enter into their relationship.

This dynamic gets worse with time, so it is important to understand your childhood triggers, how they affect you as an adult, correct them, and properly communicate through arising problems and challenges.

Source: Riana Milne, MA, Certified, Global Relationship, Love & Life Coach, August 3, 2016 #ACoAAwareness

Change is coming

In this New Year my goal is to work on being more transparent.  As a child of an alcoholic I lived with the shame of being a member of dysfunctional family.  I ignored the reality of my home life and pretended my family was normal; even though I had no idea what normal really was.

I’ve been wearing a mask for years now; the façade of a normal life.  I didn’t know others felt the way I felt growing up.  It’s a great relief to know I’m not alone.  But giving up the mask totally has not been easy.  I’m still hiding to a certain degree and that constricts me.  But through prayer and hard work, I know I will finally be free.

Hi, I’m Liz Hawkins and I’m a recovering Adult Child of an Alcoholic.