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
Growing up with an alcoholic parent, I was under the misguided belief that my father’s excessive drinking was somehow my fault. I thought if I could be the ‘good’ daughter, dare I say even the ‘perfect’ daughter, my father wouldn’t need to drink and all would be well again. However erroneous this thought process may have seemed, it at least enabled me to survive my dysfunctional upbringing.
My brothers may have felt the opposite, seeing our fathers’ alcoholism for what it was: a destructive, chaotic force taking away any consistency, trust, love, and happiness from what might have been an idyllic childhood. The concept that their alcoholic parent was indeed sick but playing the best they could with the card they’d been dealt was somewhat helpful.
There is value in ‘going back in’ and recognizing what happened in the past and its continuing effect on our lives today. We now must try to become our own loving parent and unhook those old erroneous survival techniques we adapted as children and move on.
Hi, I’m Liz Hawkins and I’m a recovering Adult Child of an Alcoholic.
Reference: Hugh Trethowan (2017)
Bestselling author, speaker, and healer, Lisa Romano wrote an interesting article, which gave me further insight into my mother, who is also an adult child of an alcoholic (ACOA).
She said if your mother was emotionally neglected as a child because of her father’s alcoholism, she may be unaware to the extent of just how disconnected she is to her own self. When a childhood is lived saturated in fear, survival is often the only thing on a child’s mind. Because the basic instincts of the child must be on hyper-drive, in order to simply survive, there is little time to mature emotionally, and to connect to the spiritual side of self.
And when she has children of her own, she parents blindly and detached from any notion that she is disconnected emotionally from within at all. As a result – many times ACOA mothers are unable to form authentic paternal bonds with their children – simply because they are totally clueless as to what they are not giving their them.
The transformational journey on the road of self-awareness is powerful. Hi, I’m Liz Hawkins and I’m a recovering Adult Child of an Alcoholic.