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Children of Alcoholics

Does Drinking Run in the Family?

Recently we celebrated Children of Alcoholics Week, although it’s not really the kind of thing that anybody actually wants to celebrate. If you’re the child of an alcoholic, even though you’re all grown up, you still have thoughts and feelings that you just can’t resolve. Worse yet, you may have become an alcoholic yourself. Your children may be future alcoholics. Alcoholism runs in a pretty deadly cycle in most families.

Millions of Americans become dependent upon alcohol. Believe it or not, most alcoholics actually manage to hold down jobs and at least create the façade of a traditional family life. The people in the family live from day to day telling themselves that it really isn’t so bad.

Did you dread Sundays when your dad would be home from work? Maybe he’d get up and go to church, but most likely he stayed in bed nursing a headache from the night before. Once he was up and about —heck, maybe he even made breakfast for everybody else—the day would go downhill from there. As soon as he went out in the yard gardening or puttering about in the workshop, bottle of beer or glass of whisky in hand, things would go sour. His words would slur, his good mood would deteriorate, and sooner or later somebody in the family would pay the price. Maybe this pattern involved your mom and her activities, but in either case doesn’t it sound familiar?

What happens to the children in the household? As they grow, they lack the attention, support, and guidance that every youngster needs. These children reach adulthood with a satchel of hurtful insecurities strapped to their backs. Many of them are forced to act in adult roles, by providing comfort to adult family members or shouldering responsibilities beyond their years when they should be having fun and just being kids.

It’s no wonder then, if you’re the child of an alcoholic, that you have grown up to have little trust or faith in your family members or friends. If you have a spouse, you find that you are unable to truly partner with that individual.

Many children of alcoholics become codependents, because they live with feelings of guilt and inadequacy. They couldn’t change their parent’s drinking when they were kids, and now as adults they move through the world frustrated by their own failures. Their own self-worth becomes evident only when someone—usually another alcoholic, like the parent they grew up with—needs them to take care of things, just like they did when they were little.

So what can you do? Remember this when you think about your parent’s alcoholism: You didn’t cause it. You can’t control it. You can’t cure it.

The best thing you can do is become educated about alcoholism and its effects on family members. Look for articles about codependency and enabling on this website and other places like Alcoholics Anonymous.  Next, you have to remember to celebrate who you are. Even if you’ve grown to adulthood disappointed in yourself or worrying that you haven’t lived up to the expectations of others, those fears are not true. You need to get help for your alcoholic family member, and at the same time get some help for yourself so that you can recognize your value to yourself and others.

Last but not least, avoid drinking. Children of alcoholics often grow up to become alcoholics themselves. Be vigilant against the fact that alcoholism can result from both genetic and environmental influences. If you are the children of an alcoholic and you’re worried about becoming one yourself, pick up the phone and call a rehab center today. 

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