Article on growing up with Alcoholics

Discussion in 'The Watercooler' started by tiredmommy, Jan 16, 2008.

  1. tiredmommy

    tiredmommy Site Moderator

    I found this article from WebMD interesting, thought others may as well:

    A Toxic Brew

    WebMD Commentary from "Psychology Today" Magazine

    If alcoholism seems like a lot to handle, imagine growing up with addicted parents. The alcoholic family is one of chaos, inconsistency, unclear roles, and illogical thinking. Arguments are pervasive, and violence or even incest may play a role. Children in alcoholic families suffer trauma as acute as soldiers in combat; they also carry the trauma like an albatross throughout their lives.

    Not only is the experience devastating, it's common, says Stephanie Brown, founder of the Alcohol Clinic at Stanford Medical Center, where she formulated the developmental model of alcohol recovery. Seventy-six million Americans (about 45 percent of the U.S. population) have been exposed to alcoholism in the family in one way or another, and an estimated 26.8 million of them are children. "These children are more at risk for alcoholism and other drug abuse than are children of non-alcoholics, and more at risk of marrying an alcoholic as well."

    Overcoming the legacy of a parent's alcoholism may be difficult in part because there is a long history of denial. "The family is dominated by the presence and denial of alcoholism, which becomes a major family secret," says Brown, today director of the Addictions Institute in Menlo Park, California. The secret becomes a governing principle required to hold the family together, the scaffolding for coping strategies and shared beliefs, without which the family might fall apart.

    Claudia Black, a leading expert on adult children of alcoholics and author of It Will Never Happen to Me, says these children grow up with three dangerous rules: don't trust, don't feel, and don't talk. Since alcoholic parents are so self-absorbed, they forget birthdays and other important events, leaving their children with the sense that they can have faith in no one. Since the parents inflict so much pain on their families, they teach their children to suppress their emotions just to survive. Indeed, alcoholic parents are prone to angry or violent outbursts that (along with the drinking itself) they end up denying, and children in such a home may buy the delusion, themselves. Since the children are inculcated to deny the reality around them, they develop a resistance to talking about urgent, important, or meaningful aspects of life.

    Brown adds that children of alcoholics may suffer depression, anxiety, and compulsions, all related to the grueling experience of growing up in such a home. Dealing with the legacy of disturbance means treating the traumatic stress, she says. First and foremost, adult children of alcoholics "have issues with control." That means they are afraid of others and have problems with intimacy; they harbor anxiety that if they lose control, they may become addicts themselves.

    The most important emotional leap for such a survivor: Separating the past from the present. They must learn to realize that when they overreact to something now, "they are really feeling pain from the past." Once they have that skill, they can start to move on.

    Brown recommends psychotherapy for adult children of alcoholics, and states that group therapy may work extremely well. "When family distortion is the problem, groups are ideal for bringing that out." Brown especially recommends seeking support from Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization or Co-Dependents Anonymous, which offer 12-step programs. If a group is unavailable, individual psychotherapy, family therapy, and even psychopharmacology can do a lot of good.

    The Signs
    Thirteen characteristics of adult children of alcoholics Janet Geringer Woititz, widely acknowledged as the founder of the Adult Children of Alcoholics movement, lists 13 traits to look for.

    These individuals:

    Can only guess what normal behavior is
    Have difficulty following a project from beginning to end
    Lie when it would be just as easy to tell the truth
    Judge themselves without mercy
    Have difficulty having fun
    Take themselves very seriously
    Have difficulty with intimate relationships
    Overreact to changes over which they have no control
    Constantly seek approval and affirmation
    Usually feel that they are different from other people
    Are either super responsible or super irresponsibleĀ—there's no middle ground
    Are extremely loyal, even in the face of evidence that the loyalty is undeserved
    Are impulsive. They tend to lock themselves into a course of action without giving serious consideration to alternative behaviors or possible consequences. This impulsively leads to confusion, self-loathing and loss of control over their environment. In addition, they spend an excessive amount of energy cleaning up the mess.

    The Reading List
    Some of the best books for children of adult alcoholics can be found at

    It Will Never Happen to Me. Claudia Black. (Medical Administration Press, 1982)
    Safe Passage: Recovery for Adult Children of Alcoholics. Stephanie Brown. (John Wiley & Sons, 1992)
    A Place Called Self: Women, Sobriety and Radical Transformation. Stephanie Brown. (Hazelden, 2004)
    A Place Called Self: A Companion Workbook. Stephanie Brown. (Hazelden, 2006)
    Guide to Recovery, A Book for Adult Children of Alcoholics. H. Gravitz and J. Bowden. (Health Communications, 1985)
    The Struggle for Intimacy. Janet Woititz. (Health Communications, 1985)

    Originally published on February 12, 2007
  2. trinityroyal

    trinityroyal Well-Known Member

    Nomatic, I found the following article about being a Dry Drunk.

    If you google the term "dry drunk" or "dry alcoholic" you will find a number of other useful articles.

    Essentially, a dry drunk is someone who has stopped drinking, but hasn't taken any steps to change the part of them that led them to drink in the first place.

    My sister in law is a dry drunk. After her 3rd or 4th? hospitalization for acute pancreatitis this summer, and being told by the doctor that if she took so much as one more drink ever it would be a death sentence, she stopped hitting the bottle. Ever since then, she is the most miserable, bitter, horrible person to be around. Her behaviour is almost worse now than when she was drinking.

    Her issue is that she hasn't done any therapy, any analysis, or gotten herself into any program that will help her work through why she nearly drank herself to death in the first place. Until she does that, she's miserable and determined to make everyone around her equally miserable. And, since she hasn't done any of the work to understand why she became a drunk, she doesn't have the insight or skills she needs to get sober and stay sober.

    It's a hard, hard road.

  3. tiredmommy

    tiredmommy Site Moderator

    Nomatic- My mom is a drunk... and not a dry one either. No experience with dry drunks here! I think Trinity's explanation sounds right, though. FWIW, my mother's alcohol and substance abuse didn't begin until after she left my father when I was six. I saw her one day weekly (Sunday) until I was eleven. Then it went to every other weekend until I was sixteen. Then I cut back visits drastically (every few months). So I didn't see my mother regularly and wasn't exposed constantly to her addictions. But I still show eight out of thirteen behaviors though I've been improving myself consistently since having Duckie because I didn't want her "infected" with the damage my mother caused me.
  4. TerryJ2

    TerryJ2 Well-Known Member

    Very interesting and useful TM. Thank you.

    Wow, Trinity, how awful. I feel for you. (And her ...wish she'd wake up and smell the coffee.)
  5. susiestar

    susiestar Roll With It

    If Adult Children of Alchoholics do not work to break the cycle, they raise Adult Granchildren of Alcoholics. I am one. You have the behaviors, but truly have no clue in many families that alcohol is behind them. I was a pregnant adult before I realized that my mom had laid the law down about my Gpa drinking around us. She said, and meant, that ONE drink around either of her kids meant that he would have NO contact with us again. He was a vicious drunk, but a pretty nice guy in many ways otherwise. But very much a gfgparent.

    So, if you are an ACA, it really does help to go to meetings (there are even special Al-Anon meetings just for Adult Children) and try to break the cycle.

    The gene for alcoholism will still be there, but you can help with a LOT of the other stuff.

  6. Wiped Out

    Wiped Out Well-Known Member Staff Member

    I too am an adult grandchild of an alcoholic. I read a book on it a long time ago. Very interesting info. and things really seemed to fit.