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