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impacts of parental alcoholism

The Long-Term Impacts Of Parental Alcoholism: An Unfiltered Look

by Martha Simmonds
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While alcoholism is detrimental to the person struggling with it, one overlooked impact of alcoholism is the long-term effects on children. While every situation and family is different, growing up with an alcoholic parent is not easy for anyone–at any stage of life.

Whether you or a loved one suffers from alcoholism, there are solutions to navigating recovery and recognizing behaviors stemming from past parental trauma. Adult children of alcoholics experience the impact throughout their lives, emotionally and physically.

Alcoholism does not discriminate by gender, age, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. Anyone can become an alcoholic, regardless of how perfect their life seems. Children of alcoholics have to deal with the repercussions of their parents–a burden they did not ask for and often didn’t have the tools to handle.

Emotions and the alcoholic parent

Children with an alcoholic parent feel lonely from a very young age. These kids often believe that they are the only ones on earth dealing with the situation and may even blame themselves for the excessive alcohol use of their parent(s).

Most people do not know what to do when an authority figure has a substance abuse problem, so they carry on with life. Kids with alcoholic parents may be abused at home or endure extreme neglect they never disclose to anyone.

Unfortunately, this disruption is the child’s routine. Children with turbulent home lives do not know anything different or how to ask for help.

Adult children of alcoholics may also experience:

  • Excessive perfectionism
  • Predisposition to an addictive personality
  • Fear of abandonment
  • Phobia of authority figures

Even if a child with an alcoholic parent does not become an alcoholic themselves, it is not uncommon for ACOAs to develop addictive tendencies. Whether it be spending, other substances, or risky behaviors, these adults often express their uncommunicated trauma through the routes that parents modeled to them, primarily addictive habits.

Relationships are also challenging for adults that grew up with an alcoholic parent. These individuals never had stability or someone to go to with problems, so opening up to other people and becoming vulnerable may be quite the task. Communication is tricky for ACOAs as they spend so long hiding their emotions.

Abandonment is another one of the more prevalent issues for adult children with alcoholic parents, and it seriously impacts interpersonal relations as well. For example, if a child lost their alcoholic parent to addiction (or an illness caused by alcohol, like cancer), they may not feel the need to surround themselves with loved ones.

Codependency

Codependency is the most common and widely misunderstood result seen in ACOAs. Some assume that because they grew up around an alcoholic parent, ACOAs are independent and entirely self-reliant, but it tends to be the opposite.

This impact is a highly complex issue, as it juxtaposes the ACOA’s tendency to shut out others and not communicate. ACOAs crave affection and attention because they did not have it growing up.

Therefore people may gravitate towards anyone that shows them empathy or kindness. Sometimes, this attraction is fine–it is normal and healthy to depend on a partner. But codependency can quickly become toxic if the ACOA is in a relationship with an addict.

ACOAs feel like they have to take care of everyone like they cared for their parents. These adults see it as their job to parent those around them because they never had parental guidance.

Physical impacts of having an alcoholic parent

Emotional concerns are often the most prevalent in ACOAs, but several physical ailments result from alcoholic parents.

Physical manifestations of anxiety, neglect, and depression are remarkably substantial and may lead to less-than-savory coping mechanisms. Children with alcoholic parents may be prone to headaches, stomach problems, panic attacks, and digestive diseases.

Chronic pain and fibromyalgia are other conditions often attributed to extreme stress or anxiety-ridden situations.

The positives

Being an ACOA does not necessarily mean you are completely helpless or unable to live life fully. In reality, some of the traits you obtain while growing up as a COA might benefit you.

Empathy

ACOAs typically have a high level of empathy, meaning they understand and feel the emotions of those around them.

Former children of alcoholic parents may be exceptionally perceptive towards those with mental health issues or other ACOAs and will do anything in their power to take care of them.

Perfectionism & diligence

Achieving well and having a strong will are not negative attributes in healthy doses. A little perfectionism in your career or education may lead to a very bright future, which is quite a turn-around from the ACOA childhood experience.

Loyalty

Although making friends and forming intimate bonds might be tricky for ACOAs, their connections are unbreakable. This sense of loyalty may be attributed to the ACOA’s caretaker tendencies, as they want to ensure everyone has their needs met.

Final thoughts

Growing up in a household with an alcoholic parent is not what any child wants. Still, some must parent their parents until they are of age, and those repercussions impact ACOAs throughout their lifetimes in countless ways.

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