The reach of alcoholism extends far beyond the person struggling with the addiction. It affects families in often dramatic and life-altering ways. While most family members adapt or have the ability to remove themselves from a toxic situation, children have less of a voice in how their loved ones’ choices will impact their lives.
Despite their profound abilities to adapt and overcome, children rarely make it through these formative years of their lives unscathed. Nearly seven million children grew up in homes plagued by alcoholism. Irrevocable change happens to those forced to navigate the trauma of instability and neglect.
While we can overcome and heal from those experiences, their continued effects on our lives are also often overlooked. From childhood into the far-reaching corners of adulthood, being the child of an alcoholic alters the core of who someone is or who they will become. Read on to learn more about the scars of adult children of alcoholics.
Adult Children of Alcoholics
When uncertainty is a benchmark of growing up, children learn to mask their trauma and cope by whatever means necessary. Often this leads to becoming fearful of several things:
- Loss of approval
It may lead to following in the family’s footsteps of developing an unhealthy relationship with alcohol or other risk-seeking behaviors. There are numerous ways that those traits may express themselves. Many whose childhoods were riddled with alcohol-related strife find difficulty in their adult lives regulating their moods and behavior.
Distortion of reality to avoid responsibility is just as likely as becoming so consumed with the need to control that they struggle to make connections that may threaten their independence. Thus, they once developed the survival strategies to cope with their reality and may now affect their behavior and relationships in extensive ways.
It’s not uncommon for children of alcoholics to grow into adults who struggle to love — especially when love has always looked like fixing — or to repress emotions into numbness. They may struggle to make connections and find security in the relationships they do have.
Often, they experience profound difficulty trusting themselves, leading to low self-esteem, doubts in decision-making abilities, and intense fears of abandonment. When you are a child of an alcoholic family, there is little regularity or stability in how your outward emotional expressions are received.
Regulating those feelings can be difficult when the reactions from a parent struggling with sobriety are unpredictable. It can rob you of the sense of safety and, in self-preservation, lead to the need to conceal or repress those emotions.
While we can overcome this nature’s emotional trauma, it can also become deeply cemented in how we operate in the world. With such deeply ingrained behaviors, it’s possible that as you age, you may struggle to see them as fixable or even as problems at all.
Because of how we have learned to survive, emotions can feel wildly varied in their accessibility to us. It can feel unsafe to express them to those we perceive to have authority over us or those who may offer rejection in exchange for our vulnerability.
To the children of alcoholic families, perhaps the most challenging aspect of wrapping their head around is their demotion on their parent’s list of priorities. As drinking becomes the focus of every day, it becomes the organizing factor in daily life.
Physical health suffers, as alcoholism can contribute to cardiac stress, liver dysfunction, and many blood pressure issues. Physical impacts do not lie solely with the alcoholic. Health issues can manifest in their loved ones, children in particular, as anxiety or even malnourishment in some cases.
Financial security becomes tentative when facing threats to employment and the expense of alcohol. Also, lower inhibitions when drinking may be the catalyst for overspending, leaving little money for necessities. This can spark food and shelter insecurity that becomes a critical fear of children as they move into adulthood.
It can manifest in extreme behaviors on either end of the financial spectrum. Some children find security in saving every penny for emergencies. In contrast, others use their past as an excuse for reckless adult spending since they already survived such instability once.
The High Risks & Hopes for Children of Alcoholics
While there is a significantly higher risk of adult children of alcoholics turning to drink themselves, there is also a lot of hope. Children who grow up seeing the repercussions of the disease have a step up in the awareness of where it may lead and are acutely aware of the warning signs before getting there.
Organizations like Adult Children of Alcoholics support the unique struggles of children who have grown up in this type of environment. As treatment centers like Villa Kali Ma work to restore your loved one to health in body, mind, and soul, know that the work of recovery is only beginning.
Healing family relationships is essential to sustainable recovery. It’s possible to overcome the trauma and habits ingrained from childhood and decide that you want to walk a different path. Through support and a healing treatment environment, we can soothe your inner child to build a future of hope and health beyond the reach of alcoholism.