By: Tamara Ince
Does alcoholism seem like a great burden for adults? Imagine being raised by an alcoholic parent. Surrounded by chaos, uncertainty, changing personalities, constant arguments and perhaps even violence. Children in alcoholic household suffer trauma as severe as soldiers in combat. Often feeling isolated, they carry this trauma through life, allowing it to drag them down and limit them. However, they are far from along.
Over 45% of Americans have alcoholism in their family and an estimated 26.8 million of these are children. Overcoming the trauma caused by a mother or father’s alcoholism is challenging because it occurred in an environment of denial. Alcoholism is “the family secret”, not to be shared with anyone. Children grow up learning not to trust, feel, or talk. Isolated they often have birthdays forgotten, special events missed, and live in fear of when their parents’ next violent outburst will happen. This trauma, like an albatross around the neck, follows a child to adulthood. In over 53% of adult children of alcoholics become alcoholics themselves, according to recent research.
Since as children they are forced to suppress their emotions in order to survive they take this with them to adulthood. Furthermore, having been taught as a child to deny the reality surrounding them, as adults their childhood trauma causes them to avoid talking about important, urgent, and meaningful aspects of their lives. Having had no control as a child, they have control issues as adults. They suffer depression, anxiety, and compulsions. They fear that if they lose control, then they will become addicts themselves. This causes intimacy issues and can prevent development of meaningful relationships and cause marriages to disintegrate and friendships to be lost. Furthermore, they face increased risk of career failure and relationship failure due to their propensity to over react, a lesson taught by their traumatic childhood where every little think could be escalated to violence.
Just as a soldier overcoming PTSD must take an emotional leap to heal, so does a survivor growing up in the war zone created by alcoholic parents. Adult children of alcoholics need to realize how to separate the past from the present. One way to do this is therapy. In therapy and support groups you can see that you are not alone. Many adult children of alcoholics fear emotions, even positive ones, such as having fun with their newborn son. A multitude of these survivors constantly seek to avoid conflict, thus react overly negative to constructive criticism and misinterpreting emotions thereby failing to experience personal grow as adults. Additionally, there are thousands of adult children of alcoholics that struggle due to low self esteem and constant approval seeking behaviors that make their lives harsh and cause people around them to feel physically and emotionally drained in their presence. In support groups and therapy you can see past your history and through trauma informed treatment likely stop the cycle of self-deprecation, compulsive behaviors, attractions to toxic people, emotional isolation, and more. You no longer have to live the life of a victim, you can live your life as a survivor of the trauma caused by those alcoholic parents.