The fallout of drug and alcohol addiction in the family can carry on for a lifetime. If either or both of your parents (or your spouse’s parents) used, the odds are that you (or your spouse) will too. Why? Because human beings have a tendency to recreate the homes we had as children. If your life was chaotic and tumultuous as a child, it’s a good bet that you’ll either drink like your parent(s) and create the chaos in your home or you’ll marry a drinker who will make your world a living nightmare – the same nightmare you lived as a child.
If you’re not already in a household where recognizable addiction, domestic violence or infidelity are the norm, there are warning signs that indicate that you could be on that path. The earlier you get help, the easier it is to make change. Here are some warning signs that you are an adult child of an alcoholic who is on a path to hardship and tragedy.
- Holds a Victim Mentality: Children raised with alcoholism in their families are more likely to marry an alcoholic or someone from a similar background. They recognize and in a certain way are comfortable in the chaos of addiction. If you’re already drinking, you’ll probably want to be with another drinker. Alternatively, you may be in a relationship with someone you want to rescue. Other times, individuals who are the adult children of alcoholics don’t believe they deserve better. They cling to the unhealthy patterns they recognize, and at the same time, feel a sense of victimization from being in a pattern they can’t get out of.
- Fear of Emotions or Sharing Feelings: Adult children of alcoholics tend to bury their emotions and/or over react when it comes to their feelings, particularly anger and sadness. Childhood emotional trauma causes problems being able to feel or express emotions easily. Ultimately, adult children of alcoholics fear the most powerful emotions, and the most positive emotions too, including fun and joy.
- Avoids Conflict: Those who have suffered childhood trauma often have a fear of people who are in authority or people who disagree with them. They do not take personal criticism very well. Often survivors of childhood trauma and the chaos of an alcoholic home misinterpret assertiveness for anger or disapproval. They are constantly seeking approval from others while losing their identities in the process. Frequently they end up isolating themselves rather than confronting an issue.
- Low Self-Esteem: Self-esteem comes from others’ judgments when we are small, thus adult children of alcoholics can have a compulsive need to be perfectionists and be accepted. They are weighed down with a very low sense of self-esteem and respect, no matter how competent they may be. This frequently leads to depression. On the other hand, a situation or life in general may seem so hopeless that the individual stops trying altogether and completely lets themselves go.
- Difficulties with Intimacy: Some adult children of alcoholics fear intimacy because it makes them feel that they have completely lost control. They have difficulties expressing their needs and consequently have problems with their sexuality. Close friendships frequently become strained over time.
- Living in Chaos or Drama More Than in Peace: If you grew up in chaos and drama, it is what you know and feel most comfortable in. It can give you an adrenaline fix and feelings of power and control. There is a tendency among adult children of alcoholics to see everything and everyone in extremes, especially when under pressure.
This is not a complete list of traits commonly found among adult children of alcoholics, but is a great starting point. Denial is common in adult children of alcoholics, but if you recognize the areas in which you can grow and change, a different type of life is possible. Attempts to quiet and control our world through the abuse of drugs and alcohol abuse affect everyone around us, and the habit is neither healthy nor effective in improving anything. With effort, you can have a different life. If you have further questions, please talk to a mental health care professional.