Adult Alcoholic Children

Overcoming Childhood Addiction Trauma

“Perhaps the biggest tragedy in our lives is that freedom is possible, yet we can pass our years trapped in the same old patterns”- Tara Brach

What Exactly Does “Adult Child of an Alcoholic” (ACoA) Mean?

A child who has an alcoholic parent must navigate the emotional maze of addiction without even being aware of it. Even though they cannot name it, they can see the neglect and abuse. 

Children feel they are somehow to blame for their dysfunctional family and internalise the chaos to maintain things as they are. They sense a parent’s absence or inconsistent behaviour and frequently place the blame on themselves.

Adulthood will eventually come for children of alcoholics, but the trauma may last for years. Children of alcoholics may still feel the fear, anxiety, anger, and self-hatred they did as children. In adulthood, they might observe the coping mechanisms and behaviours from their childhood—people-pleasing, controlling behaviour, seeking approval from others, or judging oneself and others.

What does it mean to be the adult child of an alcoholic, then, is a fair question. It means that as a child, a person had to navigate an emotional minefield and learn ways to deal with it that they have to unlearn as an adult.

Al-Anon Lessons: How to Begin Your Own Recovery

Al-Anon meetings, a support group for people who know and love someone addicted to alcohol or other drugs, are frequently attended by family members and friends of alcoholics. In addition to teaching them the Three Cs of Al-Anon, these meetings will encourage family members and friends to begin their own recovery and take care of themselves.

  • I didn’t cause it
  • I can’t control it
  • I can’t cure it

For better or worse, addiction is out of the control of friends and family, which is a crucial lesson for many. They can, however, establish boundaries around the addiction and for the addicted loved one and begin their recovery in the healthiest way possible.

Children don’t always have access to these kinds of support groups when they’re young, which is understandable. Even if a person becomes an adult and is the child of an alcoholic, the meetings may not always concentrate on what it was like to grow up with addiction and in a dysfunctional family.

image by Derek Thomson from unsplash

ACoA Issues and Responses: Embracing the Inner Child

The Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA) fellowship was founded to assist those who had alcoholic parents or lived in dysfunctional households. Meetings and readings for groups are meant to help adult children figure out problems that have come up because of how they were raised and come up with solutions.

For ACA members, the ACA website lists both “The Problem” and “The Solution,” which can be summed up as follows.

The Problem

As a result of their upbringing, adult children of alcoholics will likely notice some or all of the following traits:

  • feeling lonely or uncomfortable around others
  • interpreting criticism of oneself as a danger
  • Being an alcoholic, becoming one, or both 
  • Feeling more concerned for others than oneself
  • Being willing to do anything to avoid being abandoned
  • Confusion between love and pity and a propensity to love those who need saving

The Answer

The relationship between a person’s inner child and parent, two distinct sides of self, holds the key to the solution for adult children. In addition to learning how to treat themselves with a parent’s love, kindness, and respect, an ACoA can also learn to express the pain their inner child has been holding inside, creating space for hurtful memories and flaws to come to the surface and be healed.

Adult children, with the help of others, will eventually begin to see alcoholism and other drug addiction as diseases, with family dysfunction as unavoidable outcomes. They will learn that they can’t change the past, but they can unlearn unhealthy ways of coping and dealing with childhood trauma and find “a sense of wholeness” they didn’t know was possible.

A New Life Direction and a Vision of Hope for an ACoA

Once these two facets of self—the inner parent and child—start to cooperate, one can find a new wholeness within. The adult child in recovery can witness and react to the conflict, emptiness, and loneliness brought on by a parent’s drug use and lament the unalterable past. They can take responsibility for how they live their lives today, own their truth, and grieve their losses. And they can give themselves the respect, love, and tolerance they merit.

Editor’s note: We much prefer using language that emphasises a person’s identity before their illness and typically steer clear of terms like addict or “alcoholic.” However, we have chosen to keep the terms “addict” and “alcoholic” to describe people with substance use disorders in keeping with the history of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Al-Anon, and ACA, their founding texts, and the language still used within the fellowships.

Our goal is to embody the fellowships’ culture and speak to people about how they typically think about the disease of addiction.

If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction-related issue, call Freephone  0800 140 4044

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