It is important to note that ACOAs have taken in or internalized both parents. This includes the parent who appears more functional compared to the alcoholic or chemically addicted parent. Experience show that the “functional” or non-alcoholic parent passes on just as many traits as the identified alcoholic. The non-alcoholic parent also passes on his or her pattern of “internal drug abuse.” The para-alcoholic (the non-drinking parent) is driven by fear, excitement, and pain from the inside.
The biochemical surge and cascade of inner “drugs” that accompany these states of distress and upheaval can impact children as profoundly as outside substances. Experience shows that the non-drinking parent’s reaction to these inside drugs affects the children just as the alcoholic’s drinking affects them. This may sound technical, but it is important to understand if we are to comprehend the reach of a dysfunctional upbringing.
As children of alcoholics, we were affected by the alcoholic drinking from without and by the para-alcoholic drugs from within. It is believed that long-term effects of fear transferred to us by a non-alcoholic parent can match the damaging effects of alcohol. This is why many ACOAs can abstain from drinking alcohol, but be driven by inner drugs that can bring difficulties as we attempt to recover. This legacy of fear and distorted thinking seems to drive our switching from one addictive behavior to another as we try to make changes in our lives.
To think about internal dosing another way, consider this. The alcoholic can be removed from the family by divorce or separation, but nothing in the home really changes. The alcohol abuse or other dysfunction is gone, but the home remains fearful and controlling. Boundaries are unclear. The children don’t talk about feelings. They either become enmeshed with the non-drinking parent or alienated from him or her.
The rules of don’t talk, don’t trust, and don’t feel apply even with the removal of obvious dysfunction. The inside drugs are at work. The non-drinking parent’s fear, excitement, and pain have been passed to the next generation. This is the internalization of parental feelings and behavior in its purest form.
Adapted from ACA Fellowship Text (formerly Handbook) pp. 23-24
© Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization, Inc.