If you are reading this, you are likely recognizing more and more that as an adult you are facing emotional and interpersonal challenges, which are due, at least in part, to having grown up in an alcoholic family. This is an understandable perception, as there is a growing body of research documenting alcoholism’s effects not only on the drinker but also on the entire family system.
You may be aware of repetitive strains that keep coming up in intimate relationships, with work associates, or perhaps with your own kids. And that there are aspects of the ways that you keep getting stuck that feel old and all too familiar, that seem to be related to being an adult child of an alcoholic (ACOA).
Issues Commonly Faced by ACOAs
You may be aware of the old issues that seem to keep resurfacing, but wonder in what ways these issues are specifically related to having grown up in an alcoholic family. And, also, how this might differ from the issues that others struggle with.
While adult children of alcoholics are in many ways similar to others who have pain in their lives, there are certain issues, which, while not unique to ACOAs, are especially common in this population.
Common problems encountered: Though alcoholic families differ enormously from one another, a number of problems frequently occur. These include inconsistent parenting, with unpredictable rules and limits; chaotic or tense family environment; poor communication, with unclear messages and broken promises; and loneliness and isolation, as family members attempt to hide the family’s problems and reduce the potential for shame and embarrassment.
Parents’ issues takes center stage: In addition, for many children who grow up with an alcoholic parent (as may also be true for children who live with other kinds of disabled or dysfunctional parents) the parent’s illness often takes center stage and depletes the family’s ability to adequately meet the physical and emotional needs of the developing child.
Dysfunctional adaptations are developed: Complicated adaptations are learned in the alcoholic family in order to adapt to the problems created by the drinker. These coping strategies, developed to sustain survival during childhood, become dysfunctional in adult life.
What Kind of Treatment is Useful?
Many ACOAs find that the support they receive in self-help programs adequately address their needs. Others may wish to address their family-of-origin issues through more intensive work with a psychotherapist. This would ideally be done with a skilled therapist familiar with the kinds of disruption that may occur in an alcoholic family, and the consequences faced later in life by children growing up in these families. This work may take place in ACOA-focused individual therapy, in a therapy group, or a combination of the two. Both can also complement work in an ACOA self-help group and may be done simultaneously.
In working on your ACOA issues, you have an opportunity to reduce your pain and increase a sense of personal mastery.
In addition, work on your ACOA issues may be effective not only in reducing your own pain, but also may play a major role in interrupting transmission of non-adaptive behavior patterns onto the next generation (that is, how are you relate now or in the future to your own kids and grandkids).
Other Relevant Articles
- Getting Help for an Addicted Loved One
- Dealing with the Challenges of Living with an Addicted Loved One
- Getting Help for Yourself When an Addicted Loved One Needs Treatment
- The Substance Abusers who is an ACOA
More about ACOA treatment as well as references can be found in my book, Group Psychotherapy with Adult Children of Alcoholics: Treatment Techniques and Countertransference Consideration.
Dr. Marsha Vannicelli, a nationally recognized expert on the topic of adult children of alcoholics has authored books and articles on this topic as well as lectured widely nationally and internationally.
© 2017 Marsha Vannicelli