83 thoughts on “You Don’t Outgrow the Effects of an Alcoholic Parent

  • June 24, 2016 at 7:08 am

    Hi!
    Beautiful article on ACOA’s and the things that stick with them their entire life. I can work on these, happily. Can you speak to that place in ACOA’s that get dealt a blow to these issues? Ex., stopping a relationship because of extreme criticism? The adult in a lot of us knows to pull away, but that heart place has a difficult time working through it. And, do you have a book??

    Reply
    • June 24, 2016 at 1:16 pm

      Hello,
      Thank you for reading and leaving your nice comment. I will eventually get a book written…but it’s a big undertaking (or so it feels at the moment). If you haven’t yet, please sign up for my newsletter. That will keep you informed of things like the eventual book!
      If I understand correctly, I think you’re asking how to deal with needing to end an unhealthy relationship. You are exactly right that your head says this isn’t good for me, this person is hurtful. The problem is that we get conditioned to being treated unkindly, it is familiar even when we don’t like it. There is often a part deep inside that feels less than and wonders if s/he is deserving of the criticism. This is the piece to unpack a bit more. I believe the key is in truly loving yourself deeply and only then can you allow healthy, love to come into your life. I hope that helps.
      Best to you and thanks again for reading!
      Sharon

      Reply
  • June 24, 2016 at 12:00 pm

    This was a great article. I am in my 50s and still deal with these affects of growing up in an alcoholic home. I keep telling myself you are to old to dwell on this stuff, just get over it and move on. I lead a normal life, but ever now and again it creeps back up on me and I don’t know how to deal with these emotions. I have built new relationships with my parents now. I have reversed roles with my parents for many years, but even more so now that they are older and need the assistance. I live away from my family and still stay in contact with them daily and want to still help them. I know that is part of being the oldest child and having to be the protector. Unfortunately, you can only help those that will let you. How do you convince yourself to accept that you can only help those that want help? Thank you for letting me express myself and for the information of this article.

    Reply
    • June 24, 2016 at 1:09 pm

      First, thanks so much for reading and commenting. Just like you, so many adult children of alcoholics live very normal and generally happy lives…but these issues linger. How could they not? They impact so many areas of our lives and especially when as kids we’re still developing and vulnerable. To answer your question, I think you already know from experience that you can’t help anyone who doesn’t want help or to change. Experience tells you that. You’ve tried it the other way and it doesn’t work. I would love to do some more thinking and writing what you bring up – how the relationship changes when our parents age, get sick, and need caretakers in a different way.
      best to you,
      Sharon

      Reply
    • June 25, 2016 at 1:44 am

      I relate so much to your message. Until I read the article I hadn’t realised the impact and depth of unhappiness I feel towards my childhood. I understand this not unusual to feel the way I do . Having had an alcoholic mother and being a middle child my teenage years were pretty grim. Thanks for sharing

      Reply
      • June 25, 2016 at 6:06 am

        No, you aren’t alone. These things are really, really hard. They don’t have to define you, but they are important in understanding yourself. And self-understanding and acceptance, of course, are keys to both change and happiness.
        take good care,
        Sharon

        Reply
  • June 24, 2016 at 7:51 pm

    Whenever I hear the word ‘alcoholic’ I know that what follows will be a list of normal human feelings or activities that I and most likely anyone on the planet can identify with, and then I will be told that I need 12-step recovery. This often involves ‘cutting people off’ and going to meetings where I’ll learn how to have a relationship with God.

    Have I ever drank too much alcohol?
    Do I know someone who drinks too much alcohol?
    Did either of my parents ever drink too much alcohol?
    Am I too rigid? Am I a doormat?
    Do I not trust people? Do I do whatever people want me to do?
    Etc.

    Reply
    • June 25, 2016 at 6:00 am

      Hi Tom,
      I’m sure you realize this article isn’t about recovery for alcoholics or that everyone needs AA (or Alanon or God) or that everyone needs to cut people out of their lives. I hope that everyone will find a path that for works for them. There is no one right way to recovery, but I do believe everyone benefits from support and knowing they aren’t alone.
      Sharon

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      • June 27, 2016 at 11:33 pm

        Great point ! πŸ™‚

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    • June 27, 2016 at 11:31 pm

      Very true Tom. Treating addiction is in many cases a complex process. Rehab and 12 Step buzz words, cliches and generalizations do nothing but stigmatize the individual suffering. No, they are not all the same and neither should their treatment be.

      Reply
  • June 24, 2016 at 10:38 pm

    I absolutely love this! I have read the laundry list also. I believe this list is similar yet relates so well to me. It took me a long time to pinpoint what was going on with me. So, I understand the denial or inability to put a label on ACA because of not fully understanding it. These traits on are all a reality for me but I am learning to cope much better and minimize my anxiety the past year. My awareness is key. Knowing where these things are coming from has been extremely helpful. Not allowing negative self talk is also a big help for me. I have accepted that this will be a long journey. I have also seen enough progress to know I can minimize the effects. This list is a helpful reminder.

    Reply
    • June 25, 2016 at 6:03 am

      I love it! Thank you so much for sharing your process and successes.
      I wish you continued insights and progress,
      Sharon

      Reply
  • June 25, 2016 at 8:57 am

    Describes my late husband to a T. Kind and loving, he was also a mystery to me, often. Took me several years and lots of reading to figure out what was going on. Glad I did, he was worth my effort.

    Reply
    • June 25, 2016 at 1:21 pm

      Ah, I’m glad you did, too! Thanks so much for reading.
      best wishes,
      Sharon

      Reply
  • June 25, 2016 at 9:10 am

    This is complete horseshit and you’re doing a serious disservice to your readers by lumping all children of alcoholics into a single group that can be described with exactly the same laundry list of characteristics. Saying that “[having your needs met] didn’t happen in your dysfunctional family” and “Alcoholic families are in ‘survival mode'” is not only a broad generalization that hardly applies to every single person with an alcoholic parent, it also fails to address other factors or reasons why this might have been the case. I guess it’s become fashionable to try and squeeze yet another large, diverse group of people into a “one size fits all” category such as ACOAs and look for common problems among them but as a licensed psychotherapist you should know better. This article was extremely disappointing and potentially harmful to anyone who had alcoholic parents. Those people are individuals, not a single diagnosis.

    Reply
    • June 25, 2016 at 11:33 am

      Hello Stephanie,

      Really this post fit me to a T. Nearly every point that was raised, was something I had experienced. I guess in general grouping the majority of “US” children of alcoholic Parents can be made. Least with me it was. But I see your point as well. To me it was a service.

      Reply
    • June 25, 2016 at 1:17 pm

      This is the limitation of every article and self-help book – they are written for the masses and will not reflect your unique experiences and personality, etc. Sorry this one didn’t speak to you.
      take care,
      Sharon

      Reply
    • June 27, 2016 at 3:07 am

      Denial is one of the traits, typically in younger siblings who don’t fully recall or understand that they were affected. I hesitate to say I’m an adult child of alcoholic/s because alcohol wasn’t a prominent factor, but I do relate to all of this article. My sibling doesn’t recall all the situations that we experienced, but I do as though they were yesterday. I can find and relate to all these lists. The big issue, though, is how to get out of it! It took 17+ years for them to train me to be this monster of a person that I feel I am. In my 50’s, I can tell myself all day that I’m a good person, but I don’t have the time to put in to retraining myself.

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      • June 27, 2016 at 5:31 am

        Definitely. Thanks for adding that. Sometimes one child has very different memories of childhood (and may or may not have actually been treated quite differently).
        Thanks for reading and adding to the discussion.
        take care,
        Sharon

        Reply
      • December 20, 2016 at 6:44 pm

        Not being able to remember is One way we cope. I am thankful for lots of lost childhood memories but I don’t remember lots of good times.

        Reply
      • June 30, 2016 at 8:40 pm

        You have a point there. I’m 8 years older than my youngest brother. He ‘missed’ some of the worst stuff that I experienced and still can remember with clarity walking around the streets of L.A. around midnight or 1 am looking for a women’s shelter because my dad came home drunk and kicked us out. My dad went cold turkey when I was in my middle 30’s so my brother still got to see 20 some years of my dads behavior.

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      • November 13, 2018 at 8:52 am

        “I don’t have the time to retrain myself”
        You’re here reading articles and understanding what happened that’s what’s important.
        It’s not like you need to carve out an hour of your day for this, if you are ACA it’s to help you
        understand and recognize behaviors and feelings in yourself and realize feelings
        you have are sometimes different, strange, weird, unusual, because of your childhood with a drunk.

        Reply
    • June 29, 2016 at 2:48 pm

      How extremely rude of you to address ‘your’ issues in such an aggressive way and with bad language too. The writer is correct in publishing the list of traits as a very high percentage do conform to the said issues that she addresses. I would never chose you as a therapist! Heaven help me if I challenged your point of view.

      Reply
      • June 29, 2016 at 3:21 pm

        Thank you, SGK. I truly appreciate your support. Stephanie and others are free to disagree with me. I don’t take it personally. I have learned that when someone leaves a very negative comment it says more about him/her than it does about my article. πŸ™‚
        Thank you again for reading and taking the time to comment!
        wishing you well,
        Sharon

        Reply
    • July 1, 2016 at 10:51 am

      I’m trying hard to agree with this article but I just can’t completely. I have to agree with Stephanie here. My father is an alcoholic who never sought treatment but ran a very successful business and is enjoying retirement, beer in hand at 74.
      I never knew I was growing up in an alcoholic family until later when I became a healt educator. I attended Alanon and it was interesting to hear others stories and though I KNOW I exhibit some of the potential “dysfunction” of an ACOA, I never feared abuse and life was anything but unpredictable growing up. I think that in a lot of ways I learned earlier than most that I needed to be responsible, healthy and I learned coping skills. I also felt throughout my teens and 20’s that I could NOT drink a drop or if become an alcoholic because it was drilled into my head that because it can run in families, I was doomed. Not so! I will have a drink now and again but it doesn’t do much for me.
      I also feel that all these labels we put on people died quite a bit of damage. My father’s issues don’t define who I am. Not any one thing ( good or bad ) defines me. And I’ve known people who seek treatment and are in recovery and one of the things that I find most amazing is that despite being told that their disease is controlling them, they knew that there was hope and that they could create their own future. Let’s stop teaching helplessness and start teaching empowerment.

      Reply
      • July 1, 2016 at 2:52 pm

        Confused,
        There’s no need to try to make this article fit for you if it simply doesn’t. Everyone has their own experiences and you know what’s true for you. From what you wrote, it sounds like you’ve got a healthy perspective on things. I think it’s wise not to let our past define us. It is a piece of who we are, but we can create our own identity. My article attempts to decrease isolation and increase self-understanding. I believe the more we understand ourselves, the more empowered we become.
        Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts.
        take care,
        Sharon

        Reply
  • June 25, 2016 at 11:12 am

    I was sent your post from my X-wife. I was raised by two alcoholic parents and like myself I have raised two daughters in an and alcoholic household of a single parent. I had full custody when they were ages 4 and 7. I have been unable to have any kind of meaningful relationship with another woman. I have suffered drug addictions and been in prison for two violent felonies. And the courts still gave me custody because in their eyes I was the better parent. I have suffered everything you have listed and probably more. Just reading your post let me see that maybe I’m not really this horrible father and parent and maybe I can help my daughters with the craziness I put them threw. Alcoholism doesn’t skip generations. It’s never too late I guess to figure out problems, not even when your 55 years old

    Reply
    • June 25, 2016 at 1:20 pm

      Your comment made me smile because this is exactly why I write for PsychCentral. You’re right, it’s never to late to heal your own pain and change and become the parent you want to be. I hope this is the start of some wonderful new understandings and changes for your family.
      Thanks so much for taking the time to let me know the article was helpful.
      take good care,
      Sharon

      Reply
  • June 25, 2016 at 3:51 pm

    The ACA Website Solution page says “This process allows us to see our biological parents as the instruments of our existence. Our actual parent is a Higher Power whom some of us choose to call God. Although we had alcoholic or dysfunctional parents, our Higher Power gave us the Twelve Steps of Recovery.”

    Doesn’t this mean that my worldly parents are dysfunctional and that I’m actually the son of God, Bill Wilson?

    I’ve been asking the NASW if suggesting this kind of thing to an emotionally troubled client is within professional ethics, but I haven’t got any response.

    Reply
  • June 26, 2016 at 10:04 am

    I think this applies to children of a bipolar parent, too. I had trouble parenting because I was never “taught” the skill. I had to take classes and, according to my daughter, I still failed.

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    • June 26, 2016 at 5:31 pm

      Yes, you’re right that there are a lot of similarities with parents who have a mental illness that isn’t well managed. I’m sorry for your struggles. And for what it’s worth, most things aren’t success or failure – but a combination of both.
      I hope you can be kind to yourself and continue to grow into the person you want to be.
      thanks for reading,
      Sharon

      Reply
  • June 27, 2016 at 12:10 pm

    Not a fan. Growing up in an alcoholic home, I don’t agree at all with the generalizations in this. An alcoholic home doesn’t necessarily equate to abuse. It’s a difficult for the alcoholic as it is for the family, and even as a child, I understood that. I grew up well aware of what an anomaly my childhood was and have done everything in my power to not let that shape me.

    Reply
    • June 27, 2016 at 1:20 pm

      Sounds like you have great resiliency and I’m sure you have a lot of wisdom to offer others. Thanks for adding your point of view.

      Reply
    • June 30, 2016 at 8:51 pm

      I agree with the ‘generalizations’ but I also don’t walk around with a sign around my neck that says ‘walking wounded’. I recognize all of them but they don’t run my life.

      Reply
  • June 28, 2016 at 9:35 am

    This list is the same for children of parents who were sober but verbally and physically abusive.

    Reply
    • June 28, 2016 at 7:22 pm

      Yes, there’s a fair amount of overlap in the effects of various types of troubled families. Thanks so much for reading and sharing your experience.

      Reply
      • June 29, 2016 at 8:20 pm

        Yes, growing up with a stepfather who was a “dry drunk”, I identify with many things on the list you gave. I know I am alive and sane (or mostly, haha) only by the grave of God and the support of the people He put in my life. It is still, and probly always will be, a journey of healing, as there are things on that list that I have definitely overcome, and things that still affect me at times. Thank you for sharing.

        Reply
      • June 29, 2016 at 9:27 pm

        Elizabeth,
        Thank you for reading! Great addition to the conversation regarding the dry drunk. I’m so glad you’ve found support and healing. And like you, we’re all still working on some things that get stirred up or continue to challenge us!
        best to you,
        Sharon

        Reply
  • June 28, 2016 at 6:25 pm

    This article really hit home. I did experience growing up in an alcoholic family for a short time. But I also lived through 2 divorces. I think this applies to both of those scenarios. I need to look into this more. almost everything listed applies to me – kind of scary but also good to know there might be a reason and it’s not just me! thank you SO much for sharing.

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    • June 28, 2016 at 7:21 pm

      You are so welcome! Thanks for letting me know it was supportive. πŸ™‚

      Reply
  • June 29, 2016 at 8:26 am

    Hi there
    W0W S000000 FANTASTIC YOUR ARTICLE. B0y could i relate as w the relation 2 the effects etc. my real dad is an alcoholic i was his favourite then not n got taken out of home bcos of him n believe you me its caused long term damage 2 ALL the relationships in that family of origin.i belong 2 Al/Anon to know im not the only one aswell as see A WICKED PSYCH0L0GIST who was the first person to tell me none of wat i went thru was my fault. i believe my physical health in its present stage of 2 incurable diseases was in part due 2 the effects as not bing allowed 2 speak up bout this and that n the fear and anxiety n the otha feelings suppressed. im literally going A DAY AT A TIME this VERY M0MENT n0w and seriously how can a article like this not help someone if ANYTHING it gives me EN0RM0US VALIDATION!! Any chance of regular email contact??
    Its ALL bout U Alone can do it but sometimes U cant do it Alone.
    i dont know why i said that S0RRY!!

    Reply
    • June 29, 2016 at 11:48 am

      I’m so glad it was validating and you are healing and finding your voice.
      Thanks for reading!
      take care,
      Sharon

      Reply
  • June 29, 2016 at 11:15 am

    I just wanted to thank you so very much for your article and connections to articles concerning Adult Children of Alcoholic Parents – I just copied all and added a letter to my two children that will hopefully help them understand the life of their father better.
    My husband was raised in a home with a severely alcoholic mother. The family all kept the secret until a month before we were married (their concern over making sure she made it to the wedding after missing her older son’s wedding). Within a year of his mother’s death in 1987, my husband became very depressed and committed suicide on his third admission to the Psych Center (under a suicide watch), leaving me to raise our 2 children aged 3 and 6.
    How he would have loved them! – they both have grown to be caring, dedicated adults – but guess it had just been too much for him. I’ve been in counseling and had finally found grace in it all. My kids still won’t discuss the whole thing much so hopefully your article and my letter for them might help them to also find grace in the midst. Again, thank you.

    Reply
    • June 29, 2016 at 11:51 am

      Margy,
      I’m so sorry for all you’ve been through. What a sad and difficult experience.
      I’m so glad you’ve found peace and acceptance and I hope your children will as well.
      Thank you for reading and sharing your experiences.
      take care,
      Sharon

      Reply
  • June 29, 2016 at 3:30 pm

    Right there. Right there, my friend. How do you do that? I have been reading the threads here and there and from your responses, I want to be just like that! You take biting criticism with such grace and, ‘Well, ok, I see, attitude.’ I. Want. That. How do I get there? How to uproot the ACOA and plant that in? How does anyone, ACOA or not?

    Reply
  • June 29, 2016 at 4:46 pm

    I’m not sure why I even read your article since neither of my parents were alcoholics, but I identified with ALL of the problems listed! After some deep thinking about my family situation when I was growing up, I realized what my father was a workaholic (for a job that changed shifts and had some travel), and caused lot of the same circumstances as those of an alcoholic. Although he has passed now and I just turned 60, I hate to admit that my life was SO screwed up because of HIS life, and I just hope that my problems have not badly affected MY children!

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    • June 29, 2016 at 7:17 pm

      Well, I’m glad you did read the article. πŸ™‚
      And, yes, there are some interesting similarities in family dynamics when other kinds of addictions, stressors, mental illness, or struggles are happening. Your comment reminds me of the power of being kind to ourselves, accepting our mistakes and working to do better as we understand ourselves more.
      Thanks for taking time to share your thoughts.
      best wishes,
      Sharon

      Reply
  • June 29, 2016 at 9:08 pm

    Interesting read. I have spent decades trying to “undo” the damage caused by my dysfunctional family. I took parenting classes to stop the cycle of abuse. I obtained medication for my anxiety disorders. I finally realized that I am better off single than staying in relationships because I either bolt after a few weeks or stay with the wrong people. I no longer blame my parents for their diseases and wouldn’t change anything in my past if I could. I still have my ACOA issues, like having a spotless house and not trusting anyone. But, I have discovered that I have strength and compassion. There are positive effects of growing up in an alcoholic/abusive household as well. I finally feel that I have reached a point in my life of utter contentment and joy. Had I not experienced a rough start in life, I may not have become so appreciative of the small victories and found the beauty within myself and the world around me. Funny question for you—- I do not drink, smoke or do drugs— I know that children of addicts are more likely to develop their own addictions—is it normal to steer clear of those dangers?

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    • June 29, 2016 at 9:24 pm

      Wow, Theresa, what an impressive story of overcoming life’s obstacles and making peace with the past.
      As for your question – ACOAs deal with alcohol/drugs in all manners. Many do have issues with addiction (alcohol, drugs, shopping, food, porn, gambling etc). Others consciously choose to abstain. And others use in completely healthy, moderate ways. Sorry I don’t have any stats, but I personally know ACOAs who fall into all these categories of use. I think we all have to figure out what makes sense of us as individuals, but I think there’s some wisdom in choosing not to drink or smoke whether it’s because of your increased chances of addiction or simply because you’re not interested.
      Thanks so much for your comment.
      Sharon

      Reply
  • June 29, 2016 at 11:11 pm

    so here I am 40 years after my alcoholic Father committed suicide still trying to figure it all out, still trying to please everyone 100% of the time, still allowing even strangers to walk all over me, still suppressing my own needs, still feeling worthless, worn out, burned out, running myself ragged to please everyone to avoid conflict at all costs. Wearing a smile to hide the overwhelming sadness of it all…….best of luck to all the survivors xx

    Reply
    • June 30, 2016 at 10:00 am

      Of course you are still affected…how could you not be? Your alcoholic father committing suicide is huge and life altering in so many ways. Give yourself that validation and love and keep moving forward one little bitty step at a time.
      Thank you for sharing.
      with support,
      Sharon

      Reply
  • June 30, 2016 at 8:29 pm

    Yup, yup, and yup. I’m all of that but I don’t remember feeling like it was all my fault. We tiptoed all around the house when my dad was sleeping off a Friday or Saturday night. Clear into my 30’s after I left my husband at the time, I moved back into the family home and went back to tiptoeing. By this time, though, he just up and quit drinking! My mother pleaded with him for many years to quit and he wouldn’t. I can’t tell you how angry I was with him that his reason for quitting was because of my younger brother who was getting in trouble with booze and drugs. I guess I’m still a little angry about it. Haha. He’s gone now, died from lung cancer. We had a good relationship after he quit but now I’m left with all the crap that you have outlined above. I’m pretty sure he went through that himself with two parents who were raging alcoholics. Thank god I had a mother who did not drink.

    Reply
    • July 1, 2016 at 12:30 am

      Thanks for sharing your story, Azannie. I’m glad you were able to mend some of your relationship with your Dad before he passed away and to have some empathy for his struggles as a child of alcoholics, as well.
      Thanks for reading my blog and taking the time to comment.
      best to you,
      Sharon

      Reply
  • June 30, 2016 at 9:23 pm

    What a great article! How do we work through these issues that hold us back so much?

    Thank you,

    Reply
    • July 1, 2016 at 12:34 am

      I’m so glad it was helpful. As you know, healing and changing can be a big undertaking! Like any big project, I think it’s important to take it slow and give yourself tons of patience, grace, and gentleness as you’re doing something really hard. Keep reading, reflecting, seeking support, and being true and honest. It will come together with practice.
      wishing you well,
      Sharon

      Reply
  • July 1, 2016 at 10:07 am

    Thank you so much for this article. I think anyone from a childhood where one person’s issues hurt the whole family can relate to the list and find peace in knowing they are not alone. I believed for so long that there was something wrong with me, that I was born with depression, anxiety, OCD, etc. I thought I would need medications my whole life to “fix” me. Although I know that the medications helped get me out of the pit and on the road to recovery,the victory only came from undoing the lies I had come to believe about myself as a child.

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    • July 1, 2016 at 10:18 am

      What an inspiration, Dee! Healing is possible! Like you said, part of it is changing your own short-comings, but so, so much of it is realizing that many of your beliefs about yourself are based on misinformation.
      Thank you for sharing and letting others know that they too can heal and feel completely worthy.

      Reply
  • July 1, 2016 at 1:22 pm

    Great read. Thank you. I did not even think about having 2 parents that are alcoholics could be the cause of my issues. I was crying as I was reading this realizing everything.

    Reply
    • July 1, 2016 at 2:45 pm

      Thanks, Amber. I hope it’s the start of figuring out more about yourself and making sense of things. I will add that sometimes uncovering some painful things can feel like you’re going backward instead of forward – but you aren’t. You’re just at the beginning of healing.
      peace,
      Sharon

      Reply
  • July 1, 2016 at 3:57 pm

    Thank you for this article. This explains a lot, I have all these issues. My mother died when I was 3 & had a father that was an alcoholic that has been married 5 times. In between each divorce, we were sent to my grandparents (mothers parents) then when he got married again we would have to leave the only steady part of our lives. My grandparents finally got custody of me at 12, but I can’t seem to shake all the major issues

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    • July 1, 2016 at 5:14 pm

      Holly,
      My heart goes out to you. I can only imagine how hard it was to lose your Mom and then have the instability of bouncing back and forth between your grandparents and your Dad and his wives…. I think it helps to just acknowledge how hard it was and not get down on yourself because it still affects you. You do the best you can day after day, you practice self-compassion, and you seek support from others who get it…bit by bit you chip away at those issues and realize you’re O.K.
      Thanks for reading.
      take care,
      Sharon

      Reply
  • July 2, 2016 at 12:23 pm

    I well understand being an adult child. As a recovering alcoholic with 28 years of sobriety, I still suffer the effects of that home life. I was an only child so I played all the roles – scapegoat, hero, etc. Both parents were violent and alcoholic. Even after many years of being in 12 step programs for alcoholism, adult children of alcoholics, Al-Anon and codependents, I still suffer sensitivity, fear of being alone and trust issues. When will it ever end?

    I am a social worker and learned a lot in my Masters program but it doesn’t stop the stuff from coming. Today, I have support to help me. Also, I take an antidepressant which has helped along with counseling.

    Reply
    • July 3, 2016 at 10:32 am

      Maybe the reader who has not been helped by many years of attending 12 step groups should try psychotherapy. Despite what 12 step proponents want you to believe, the fault is in the program not the person.

      Reply
    • July 3, 2016 at 11:03 pm

      Wow – 28 years sober is an impressive accomplishment! As you know, healing can be a long journey. It sounds like you’ve made tons of progress. Try not to get down on yourself when things still come up…keep doing your best.
      Thanks you reading the blog.
      Best wishes,
      Sharon

      Reply
  • July 3, 2016 at 1:52 pm

    I am an 84 year old woman who grew up in a home with an alcoholic father and a beautiful warm hearted mother who never drank a drop. My father had an additional problem of being completely deaf after having spinal meningitis as an 8 year old child. As a child I was aware of his drinking because it happened every weekend. I was afraid to bring any friends home because I never knew when he would come home and embarrass me. I never told anyone. Just kept it all to myself. I ne we realized that my mother was an enabler until later in life. How she put up with him I’ll never know. When my father was sober he was a good and kind man. I loved him but I didn’t like him. Many people liked him but they didn’t see the other side of him. He never was cruel to my mother or to me. He must have been so frustrated by his deafness. I can’t imagine how that felt. When I married my mother asked a family friend to walk me down the isle because we couldn’t depend on my father to be sober. I promised myself I would never marry a man who drank and I kept that promise. We’ve been married 64 years and never had a drink until we were in our 40s. I was always afraid I would turn into an alcoholic if I took one drink. Now we can have a glass of wine at dinner and we are ok. I think the reason I turned out ok was because I began to talk about it early on in my marriage. Whenever someone speaks of alcolalism I tell them about my father. I think that helps. Sorry to go on so long about this. I’ve read all the comments and consider myself lucky. My story could have had much different ending. Thank you for your blog.

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    • July 3, 2016 at 11:05 pm

      Betty,
      I have to say that I’m honored that someone of your age and wisdom is reading my blog! And 64 years of marriage is beyond impressive! I think we can all learn so much from your experiences. Thanks for taking the time to leave your comment.
      wishing you well,
      Sharon

      Reply
  • July 4, 2016 at 4:09 pm

    From the responses I read, people describe very different experiences. That’s why your list of generalizations is SO flawed. While they might describe some ACOAs, they certainly don’t describe all (and maybe not most. Where’s the data?). For example, you say we’re rigid control freaks. That’s just not true. I brought conflict and chaos into the first few years of marriage (at 29 wonderful years and counting). Chaos was my comfort zone and I clung to it, and it was difficult for my husband who had a healthy upbringing. It took me years to learn orderliness (I’m still working at it) and to embrace calm (so much better than conflict). After many years of therapy (beginning I my 20s), I have deeply examined my upbringing, found compassion for my parents’ suffering, and have been able to be a good wife, mother, sibling, friend, co-worker, etc. Even with bipolar disorder (which I manage with medication and therapy), I lead a stable, healthy, happy life full of blessings. Based on the difficult circumstances described in many comments, your readers would benefit from professional help to sort out their unique childhoods and to learn how to be healthy adults. Every ACOA deserves the chance to heal from such a painful past and to look forward to a better future. One more thing: you were so disrespectful to Stephanie! Instead of accepting that she had a different opinion – which is all yours is, afterall – you shamed her by suggesting she had a problem because she didn’t agree with you. Really?! A therapist who shames and blames instead of acknowledging and understanding? I can’t respect you for that. I agree with Stephanie’s comments more than your list of highly questionable generalizations. Everyone has their own story, their unique personality, and their personal struggles. Please focus on and respect that.

    Reply
    • July 4, 2016 at 7:12 pm

      We all have our own stories. Speaking for myself, my story involves some of those generalizations. It’s pretty cool that you’ve overcome some difficulties early on and good for you but there are some of us here that have not overcome stuff. Maybe what you grew up with was not as severe as someone else’s so please respect these other commenters who may have recognized themselves in some of the generalizations for the first time. After all, isn’t it up to each person to do what they will with the information they receive? Happy 4th to you!

      Reply
  • July 8, 2016 at 8:23 am

    I am almost 60 years old and still dealing with the effects from my alcoholic 86 yr old father. As a child our father didn’t know we existed. As an adult he still doesn’t know I exist. I’m the oldest sibling with a brother and sister. My mother passed at the age of 50. Oo ur family did everything for our father my mother mostly. She worked out of the home as a nurse with 3 kids which the 2 younger ones with behavior problems. No help from her husband but me the oldest was made the parent. My mother was also sickly and had a husband that never took care of her even when she was dying. I took care of her the best I could as I had 4 young children but I was there for her everyday. To this day I am blamed for everything that has happened to my siblings one of which is a meth addict. They like to attack me with nasty lies I mean right in my face threatening attacks. Accusations that aren’t true . I just stay the hell away and then when I do go to visit I’m attacked. I could write a book . I suffer from depression and anxiety but I fight it. I will not let this over power me. At 60 yrs old I have this deep urge to tell my father how deeply he has hurt his daughter in so many ways from my own heart to my children to how rotten he was to my poor suffering mother. But I’m afraid of being rejected again. Do you think this would help me . I want to tell him before he dies.

    Reply
    • July 8, 2016 at 9:20 am

      Linda,
      Thanks for your comment. I hear the struggle and sadness and anger…and the resiliency as you’ve tried to set boundaries and take care of yourself. So many have had similar experiences with their families.
      As for your father, I don’t know enough to advise you well. I will say that in my experience such confrontations aren’t generally satisfying. Consider what you hope to accomplish? What makes you think your dad would hear you? Since he’s ignored you most of your life, I imagine he may ignore your hurt if you share it with him. Perhaps there are other people who are more worthy of hearing your pain and acknowledging it. Perhaps writing a letter to your dad (and rewriting it and rewriting it) and using it as your process and then deciding later if you’ll ever share it with him. I don’t generally suggest letting fear stop you…but I think the more powerful thing is realizing you don’t need your father’s validation in this or anything.
      best to you Linda,
      Sharon

      Reply
  • August 13, 2016 at 2:11 pm

    Wow! You just described my ex husband and our oldest daughter to a tee! except neither he nor I are alcoholics or former alcoholics. Our daughter however, does drink. My ex husband was very verbally abusive, but , like you said, “we get conditioned to being treated unkindly”, so it took me a while to wake up. Our daughter saw/heard the conversations but, at the same time as applauding me for leaving, treats me, her younger sister and any boyfriend the same way. I do not know what to do when she does this because in my mind, I think ‘she’s acting like her dad’, so I keep quiet, which doesn’t seem like a good solution. Our younger daughter just ignores her and resents her a little. I feel bad for our oldest. What can I do? She is 28, I am 53 and the youngest is 20.
    Thank you very much for this article!!

    Reply
    • August 13, 2016 at 9:51 pm

      It sounds like she IS behaving like her Dad…but that doesn’t make it OK. It’s time to ask to be treated with respect and set boundaries.
      You can’t make the rest of the family set boundaries with her, but I think it will help if you model and talk about setting boundaries. In other words, it’s not your job to change your verbally aggressive daughter or to protect or take care of everyone else’s feelings. Your job is to ask for what you need and not allow others to mistreat you. I know it may sound harsh, but you’ve all got a part in this family dynamic and you can only change your part. I suggest searching on my blog and elsewhere for more on codependency and boundaries.
      Thank you for reading. I’m glad the post was helpful and hope you will find some more useful info here.
      Take good care of yourself. You are worth it!

      Reply
  • December 16, 2016 at 6:38 pm

    Even when a child doesn’t actually grow up in an alcoholic home they still never escape the effects of having an alcoholic parent who lived elsewhere.

    Reply
  • March 30, 2017 at 11:57 am

    I always want to comment on your posts on facebook but I never do because my mom sits on facebook all day and whenever I comment on something that was on a public page, it pops up in her newsfeed, she reads it and comments too. I am thinking I should make a fake account just so I can comment on public posts. I can’t even “like” your posts because those will pop up on her feed too and then she will read them and share them on her feed.

    She is the one who had the alcohol problem when I was growing up. It got worse once I became an adult and moved out. She contacts me every day and tries to pry information out of me on a regular basis. She treats me like a child and a best friend, neither of which I am. As a result, I am extremely guarded and stoic. I rarely even move my facial muscles when I am around her because she will pounce on me like a vulture and ask me why I’m upset or why I’m happy or why I’m this or that. I also rarely make eye contact with her because it is too intense. I’m not like this with anyone else.

    This list rings true for me for a few characteristics. Namely the last ones. I am pretty sensitive and often interpret things to be about me that aren’t. I think this is because my mom is so dependent on me that in her eyes, everything IS about me. You start to believe everyone is constantly thinking about you and judging what you’re doing, even though the only person doing that is mom. No one else is watching you that closely! I have learned this through the years but sometimes I still make mistakes. Luckily my husband can remind me that I should not automatically assume someone’s bad mood was because of me, or that someone is intentionally manipulating the situation to get a reaction out of me, which is something mom would do. The anxiety, the perfectionism, the people pleasing – yeah that’s me.

    However, I’m not full of shame and I’m not self-critical. I do trust people and I have been successful in relationships. So not everything applies to me. My dad played a huge role in making sure I was confident and not brought down by my mom’s guilt trips and manipulation tactics. I credit him for a lot of my healthy traits. however, since they divorced when I became an adult, it has been a lot harder to deal with my mom without my dad stepping in and defending me. She is free to act however she wants and no one is going to stop her. I have had to learn how to set boundaries and it’s NOT easy.

    Thanks for all your blogs. I always read them but I never engage because she is always watching me.

    Reply
    • March 30, 2017 at 12:17 pm

      Hi Helen,
      Thanks for your comment and for reading.
      Some of these posts can be sensitive subjects and I totally get why you don’t want your Mom seeing everything you like or comment on!
      I wish you continued healing,
      Sharon

      Reply
  • April 2, 2017 at 9:42 pm

    Sharon,
    With this well-informed and succinctly expressed article, you have made a valuable contribution to many people who continue to suffer the effects of being an ACA. Even those of us who have spent years in self-reflection, reading, and going to counseling and participating in group therapy, can benefit from your comprehensive article. Along with your reader who contributed the spot-on description of living with a dry drunk, and those who have borne witness to the truth of your observations and research, I would only add that occasionally making a point of the benefits of personal therapy can help one shed baggage, develop new approaches to healing and thriving, and may even prevent some readers from throwing the baby out with the bathwater due to personal variations from the descriptions, manifestations, and experiences you offer. Bravo!

    Reply
  • April 17, 2017 at 11:49 am

    Without question, there are plenty of issues that stem from substance-abusive parenting. I would say that you listed them very succinctly. I absolutely agree with the points that you made in the post. Trust,fear, anxiety and relationship issues are quite common. Great information.

    Reply
  • September 12, 2017 at 11:48 pm

    Great information. Many ways points to me and my dealings with my step father who was an alcoholic till his death 2 years ago. I have 2 brothers and 2 sisters: one passed away. I was the oldest and felt I was treated differently: wonder why….my self esteem, confidence, being withdrawn and eventually becoming an alcoholic myself has caused major issues with relationships with women and confidence with guys. I am my worst critic and deal with depression etc. I’m 53 years old and always felt like something wasn’t right. Lots of therapy and AA meetings. I was married for 24 years and I divorced her…I’m really good at pushing women away, yet I hate being alone! What a mess in my head. Thanks for listening.

    Reply
  • August 13, 2018 at 9:48 am

    Thank you for this. I’m all the things on your list except the first one.
    My Dad was a subtly emotionally and verbally abusive workaholic who mostly ignored us until university (and partially ignored us then). He became less subtle over the years, unfortunately.
    Mum was wonderful and loving, but she had a traumatic life, then found herself essentially a single parent w/ a 10yo and 7yo. She was (and is) very lonely, very needy and very clingy, and used me as emotional support from a very young age. She went through 2 breakdowns and a long period of illness, and I took over caring for my brother, running the house, etc. When I was 13 she got together with my ex-stepfather, an abusive (in every way) alcoholic. Egg shells egg shells. I couldn’t say anything about it, or about how I felt, for fear of hurting her (she was already falling apart) but I got increasingly angry at her for not protecting us from my stepfather’s abuse. I stuffed that, of course.
    My father, meanwhile, married 3 more women in 9 years: a lovely but very insecure lady who I adored, a woman with “menopause” (actually severe mental health problems) who was very jealous of me, and then my current stepmother, who is… odd. They’d just disappear one day, never to be seen again, and the new one would arrive days later. I’ve recently realised that my Dad abused them all, in his subtle way, and continues to abuse my stepmother.
    Both my brother and I had serious health problems in our childhoods, which meant a lot of time in hospitals, which didn’t help. After the age of 10, there was nowhere really safe (physically, yes – emotionally, no) for us to be.
    I moved to another country at 19, and continued my perfectionist striving, achieving pretty amazing things. Unfortunately it was at the expense of my health, as I burnt the candle at both ends and the middle. I had bouts of severe depression and anxiety, got sick constantly, did a LOT of drugs, and had relationship problems with friends and partners (never trusted them, so couldn’t open up). I went through a 3-year abusive relationship which involved coercive sex as a major feature (added to the sexual abuse by my stepfather). My next relationship was healing, but I was even more closed off.
    I moved countries again to attend a PhD program and started burning that candle even more, and soon developed a health problem that disabled me in my early 30’s. Add in the death of a very close friend, a sexual assault by a friend, my Dad deciding that my inability to recover my health/go back to work was laziness, and then a drug-facilitated rape by a stranger, and I completely lost it.
    Luckily I was sent to a fantastic counselor by Rape Crisis. I’d already had ~20 years of therapy, which helped some, but she is amazing. 4.5 years now. At the same time I met my partner, who has had a similarly traumatic life, is also mentally ill and physically disabled, and who I opened up to completely for some reason. He and my counselor often say exactly the same things to me, which is helpful (but often infuriating). At 43 I feel that I’m finally beginning to get over all this crap. I wish I could have done it earlier, and before I drove my body into disability, but if wishes were horses…
    Your article has made so many things clearer to me. I suddenly see linkages all over the place, and understand where many of the confusing traits in my personality come from. I’ve printed out the laundry list and stuck it to my wall of Important Psychological Stuff. Thank you thank you.

    Reply
  • October 3, 2018 at 9:21 pm

    how do I fix myself? Because I want to fix myself but I fear that all of these things and then some will haunt me until the day I die.

    Reply
  • May 13, 2019 at 11:12 am

    As the son of a violent alcoholic, I have far too much expertise in this matter.

    So I wanted to take a moment to thank you for your thoughtful article of the impact on adult children. I “escaped” at 24 following a childhood of unwanted responsibility and chaos. Never saw him again although I knew where he had been institutionalized and went back to bury him some 30 years later.

    I take full responsibility for my actions through adult life and have no desire to place any blame on my Father or what took place. However my behavioral pattern does mirror much of what you say.

    Those days are long gone, and thank goodness for the modern digital world that is available to those facing similar life issues

    Thank you again.

    Reply
 

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