According to a report done by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependency, more than 28 million Americans have seen the effects of alcohol abuse with a parent with more than 78 million Americans, or 43 percent of the adult population, being exposed to alcoholism in the family. Growing up in a family where one or both of the parents are alcoholic can prove to be so painful and emotionally traumatic that many years later the adult child will still be suffering from the scars. Frequently, as children they had to become “superchildren,” responsible for running the family, feeding their parents, while constantly living in fear of their parents.
Characteristics: Are You an Adult Child of an Alcoholic?
Several characteristics of adult children of alcoholics were outlined in 1983 by Dr. Janet Woititz ‘s Adult Children of Alcoholics:
- Fear of losing control—Adult children of alcoholics maintain control over their behavior and feelings. They also try to control the behavior and feelings of others. They do this because they are afraid, not because they want to hurt themselves or others. Generally, ACOA’s are adept at switching roles, from being the parent to their parent, to trying to keep a happy, healthy demeanor at school. So, the children and adult children wear many hats, or masks.
- Avoid conflict—Adult children of alcoholics are generally fearful of authority figures and angry people. Also, most ACOA’s do not take personal criticism very well. Often, they misinterpret assertiveness for anger.
- Denial—When adult children of alcoholics feel threatened, they tend to deny what provokes their fears.
- Victim Mentality—Adult children of alcoholics may be either passive or aggressive victims and are often attracted to others like them, in friendships, coworkers, and intimate relationships.
- Attracted to Compulsive Personalities—Many lose themselves in their relationship with others and sometimes find themselves attracted to alcoholics, or to other compulsive personalities— such as workaholics. They are generally attracted to those who are emotionally unavailable. Adult children sometimes like to be the “rescuer” and will form relationships with others who need their help, to the extent of neglecting their own needs. Codependency is a very common trait amongst ACOA’s.
Ways to Help Parents Quit Drinking
For children of parents who abuse alcohol, finding constructive options to help their parents deal with this issue is paramount—the psychological scars stemming from their parents’ alcohol abuse, combined with the strong possibility that the genetic traits for alcoholism may be inherited, result in a very high percentage of alcoholism—25 percent—among children of alcoholics. Even if the child does not become an adult alcoholic, other psychological problems may result, such as obsessive-compulsive disorders.
Some ways that children of parents with alcohol abuse issues can help them quit drinking should include the following:
- Understand what alcoholism is—for many who suffer from alcohol abuse, the underlying cause is depression. It is also important to know that the parent is ultimately responsible for their actions.
- Communication—if possible, trying talking to the parent when they are sober. Instead of taking a berating tone, try approaching them as the concerned child by bringing to their attention that certain issues have arisen as a result of their drinking. Make it clear their behavior will not be tolerated and encourage discussion about possible alternatives that may be available in regards to dealing with their issues such as adult treatment options.
- Avoid arguments—if at all possible, refrain from getting into heated exchanges especially if the parent has been drinking. In addition to the potential for a physical confrontation, the parent may not remember the argument the next day or when they sober up. Avoid nagging overtones.
- Don’t Start Drinking Yourself—Children of alcoholics are three to four times more likely to become alcoholics themselves. Remember everything about your parent when drunk that you do not like and keep that in mind if you’re tempted.
- Realization—Many alcoholic parents blame their children for their alcoholism. Even without having the finger pointed at you, it may feel like the fault is yours. It isn’t. Your parent is the one who chooses to drink, not you.
These suggestions are among many that can be utilized when dealing with parents who are experiencing alcohol abuse issues. If the parent can admit there is a problem and is seeking help, finding an adult rehabilitation center for drug and alcohol addiction is a logical step to pursue. Many of these treatment facilities also offer family programs so the loved ones of those who are struggling can get the support and guidance they need in the process.
Resources and Help for Adult Children of Alcoholics
ACOA—Adult Children of Alcoholics— is the main support group for this demographic. It is a twelve-step based mutual self-help support group similar in structure to AA, NA, and other twelve-step programs. Like AA, ACOA’s foundation is found in AA’s the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. Additionally, there are other self-help groups, such as Al-Anon and Alateen. These fellowships serve a common purpose: to “help families of alcoholics” by sharing their “experience, strength and hope … .” (One Day at a Time in Al Anon). By practicing the Steps themselves, members welcome and give “comfort to families of alcoholics” (ODAT). The focus begins with self, especially in the change of attitudes and behaviors toward those who suffer from the disease of alcoholism. The recovery process unfolds gently, helping those affected by addictive behavior to process their history, and examine how their behavior is tied to that history.