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The Effects Of Growing Up With Alcoholic Parents

Medically Reviewed by: Charley Allen

Table of Contents


Growing up with alcoholic parents can deeply impact children’s lives. While there’s no metric to measure the effects, it’s clear that the challenges they face can leave lasting emotional and psychological scars.

The impact of growing up with alcoholic parents extends far beyond childhood, affecting various aspects of adult life.

How Growing Up With Alcoholic Parents Affects Children

Children raised by alcoholic parents often get caught in a storm of emotions. Witnessing parental alcohol abuse inflicts a child with fear, confusion, guilt, shame, and insecurity. These experiences scar young hearts with long-term trauma, shaping their emotional well-being and future relationships.

Poor Self-Esteem and Self-Worth

Constant exposure to parental alcohol abuse or drug abuse can destroy a child’s self-esteem. They may internalize the belief that they are somehow responsible for their parent’s behavior, leading to guilt and shame. These negative self-perceptions can persist into adulthood, impacting their self-confidence and relationships.

Trust Issues and Difficulty Forming Attachments

Children of parents with alcohol addiction may struggle to form secure attachments due to inconsistent caregiving and emotional neglect. This can result in difficulties trusting others and developing healthy relationships later in life. They may fear abandonment or have trouble opening up emotionally to others.

Coping Mechanisms and Maladaptive Behaviors

Children raised in households with alcohol abuse often develop coping mechanisms to deal with the emotional turmoil. While some may develop healthy coping strategies, others may turn to maladaptive behaviors such as substance abuse, self-harm, or withdrawal. These coping mechanisms can persist into adulthood and affect their overall well-being.

Intergenerational Transmission of Behavior

Children who witness their parents’ struggle with alcoholism may internalize these behaviors as normal. As a result, they may be at a higher risk of developing their alcohol use issues in adulthood. This cycle can perpetuate across generations if not addressed through intervention and support.

Academic and Cognitive Effects of Parents with AUDs

Children of alcoholic parents face various academic and cognitive challenges due to the effects of parental alcohol use disorders (AUDs). These challenges can stem from a lack of parental guidance, involvement, and support:

  • Lower Academic Achievement: Difficulties with schoolwork, homework, and attendance can hinder their performance. Lower self-esteem, confidence, and aspirations can further impact their goals.
  • Impaired Cognitive Functioning: Cognitive deficits, including memory, attention, reasoning, and executive functions, can disrupt their learning abilities. Additionally, they may have increased risk of learning disabilities, developmental delays, and neurological disorders.
  • Emotional and Behavioral Struggles: Emotional distress such as anxiety, depression, anger, guilt, shame, and loneliness often accompany living with alcoholic parents. This can lead to behavioral issues like aggression, impulsivity, hyperactivity, and delinquency, affecting academics and social relationships.

Academic and Cognitive Effects of Parents with AUDs Design for Recovery

Living With Alcoholic Parents

Living with alcoholic parents creates a stressful and often traumatic environment for children. Even adult children may witness or experience violence, alcohol abuse, neglect, or abandonment from their parents or other family members. This unpredictable household can lack routine, stability, and emotional support.

They are also likely to have adverse childhood experiences such as:

  • Role Reversal and Parentification: Children may have to take on adult responsibilities from a young age, caring for parents or siblings and managing household tasks or finances. This disrupts their childhood and hampers their overall development.
  • Isolation and Secrecy: Stigma and shame surrounding their family environment can lead to feelings of isolation. Older children may hide their problems, fearing judgment or rejection and preventing them from seeking help.
  • Resilience and Coping Skills: To navigate mental health challenges, children of alcoholic parents often develop coping strategies. These can range from positive approaches like humor, optimism, and creativity to negative strategies such as denial, avoidance, or substance use.

The Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACoAs)

Growing up with alcoholic parents can lead to enduring challenges in adulthood. ACoAs, who were exposed to alcoholism in their family of origin, often share common traits and behaviors:

  • Low Self-Esteem: Adult children of alcoholics may struggle with self-worth, feeling inadequate, unlovable, or defective. Setting boundaries and accepting compliments can be challenging.
  • Emotional Dysregulation: Identifying, expressing, and managing emotions, especially negative ones, can be difficult for ACoAs. This can lead to behavioral problems.
  • Perfectionism: An adult child from alcoholic families may have traits like unrealistic expectations, striving for perfection, and fearing failure. Accepting mistakes and criticism is challenging.
  • Control Issues: ACoAs may need to control themselves, others, or situations. Trusting others, delegating tasks, and letting go of outcomes can be hard.
  • Denial: Denying, minimizing, or rationalizing the impact of their parent’s alcohol addiction is common. This extends to denying their feelings, needs, or problems.
  • Codependency: Prioritizing others’ needs over their own, having difficulty saying no, and depending on others for identity and happiness are frequent patterns.

These characteristics and behaviors are not unique to adult children of alcoholics, nor do they apply to all ACoAs. However, they are common enough to indicate that growing up with alcoholic parents can impact one’s personality, relationships, and mental health.

The Adult Children of Alcoholics ACoAs Design for Recovery

Addressing Trauma

Childhood trauma can persist into adulthood, impacting mental health, relationships, and behaviors. Addressing the trauma caused by growing up with alcoholic parents is essential for recovery and well-being:

  • Mental Illness: ACoAs are at higher risk for anxiety disorders, mood disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, personality disorders, eating disorders, and substance use disorders.
  • Relationship Difficulties: Adult children of alcoholics tend to struggle with forming and maintaining healthy adult relationships, experiencing intimacy issues, communication problems, trust issues, codependency, or conflict avoidance.
  • Substance Abuse: Research shows that many children who witness parental substance misuse also develop alcoholism or other substance use disorders to cope with emotions.

Seeking Healing and Support

Thankfully, resources are available for ACoAs seeking healing and improved quality of life:

  • Therapeutic Interventions such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), trauma-focused therapy (TFT), family therapy (FT), and couples therapy (CT), can help process complex trauma, change patterns, and develop new skills.
  • Counseling: ACoAs can seek professional guidance and support from counselors who specialize in working with ACoAs or are familiar with their issues. Counselors can provide a safe and confidential space for ACoAs to explore their feelings, thoughts, and goals.
  • Support Groups: At the same time, ACoAs can join peer support groups that offer them a sense of belonging, validation, and encouragement. Children from alcoholic homes can share their experiences, learn from other’s stories, and receive feedback and advice.
  • Trauma-Informed Care: ACoAs can access services and programs that are trauma-informed, meaning that they recognize the prevalence and impact of trauma and that they provide care that is respectful, compassionate, and empowering.

Remember, being an adult child of an alcoholic doesn’t define your future. With the right help and support, healing is possible. You can break free from patterns, creating a fulfilling and meaningful life. You deserve happiness, health, and love.

Learn To Cope Healthily

Coping with the challenges of growing up with alcoholic parents requires adopting healthy strategies to navigate the emotional complexities of such an environment. Learning to cope healthily equips individuals with the tools to manage their emotions, build resilience, and develop positive interpersonal relationships.

Here are some detailed approaches to effectively cope with the impact of parental alcoholism:

Self-Care: Prioritize activities contributing to joy, relaxation, and overall wellness. Enjoy hobbies, exercise, and practices that help you unwind and recharge.

Establish Boundaries: Set clear limits to protect your emotional health. Learn to say no when necessary and communicate your boundaries assertively.

Seek Trusted Support: Turn to trusted friends, relatives, or professionals who can provide understanding, guidance, and a safe space for expressing your feelings.

Professional Help: Consider seeking therapy from a licensed mental health professional experienced in dealing with the challenges faced by adult children from an alcoholic home.

Participate in Support Groups: Join support networks specifically designed for adult children of alcoholic parents. These groups offer a platform to connect with others who share similar experiences, fostering a sense of belonging, validation, and mutual encouragement.

Educate Yourself: Gain a deeper understanding of alcoholism and its effects. Education empowers you to break the cycle and make informed decisions about your life.

Develop Resilience: Cultivate emotional strength and resilience by practicing stress management techniques, positive self-talk, and mindfulness.

Practice Self-Compassion: Validate your feelings and treat yourself with kindness. Acknowledge that your challenges are not your fault and that you deserve compassion.

Utilize Available Resources: Take advantage of counseling, therapy, support networks, and educational materials designed to assist adult children of parents struggling with alcohol use disorder in their healing journey.

Seeking a Sober Future for Your Loved Ones?

If you’re seeking a path to recovery for your loved ones struggling with alcoholism, Design for Recovery offers a supportive and sober living environment. Our community is committed to helping individuals build a brighter future free from the grip of alcohol.

Let Design for Recovery be the foundation of their journey to sobriety. Connect with us today to learn how we can help your loved ones embrace a healthier, alcohol-free life.

Frequently Asked Questions

An alcoholic parent can influence a child’s development in various ways. Children might experience emotional neglect, instability, and inconsistent parenting. They could develop low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and struggle with forming a healthy relationship due to the unpredictable environment.

Family members of alcoholics often face a range of challenges:

  • Codependency: They might enable the alcoholic’s behavior and neglect their own needs.
  • Anxiety and Stress: Living with alcoholism can create an atmosphere of tension and unpredictability.
  • Isolation: Shame or embarrassment might lead to social withdrawal and secrecy about the family situation.

Children of alcoholics commonly experience emotional difficulties like low self-esteem, guilt, shame, and anger. They might struggle with trust issues and exhibit behaviors such as people-pleasing or seeking validation from others.

An alcoholic mother can impact a child’s emotional, psychological, and physical health. The child might experience neglect, lack of emotional support, and inconsistent care. This can lead to attachment issues, anxiety, depression, and difficulty forming healthy relationships.

Dealing with an alcoholic parent can be challenging. Seek support from trusted adults, friends, or professionals. Open communication, setting boundaries, and finding healthy coping mechanisms are vital. Remember, you’re not alone; seeking help is a sign of strength.

Parental alcohol use can result in family instability, strained relationships, financial difficulties, and emotional turmoil. Children might witness arguments, experience neglect, and develop emotional and psychological issues.

If your dad’s drinking affects your health, consider contacting a counselor, a licensed therapist, or a support group. Encourage your dad to seek professional help for his alcohol use disorder and focus on caring for yourself through this challenging situation.

Children of alcoholics might display symptoms such as anxiety, depression, anger, mood swings, low self-esteem, and difficulties in forming close relationships. They might also exhibit perfectionism, fear of abandonment, or struggle with setting boundaries.

Children of alcoholics might exhibit behaviors like people-pleasing, seeking approval, being overly responsible, avoiding conflict, or becoming rebellious. These patterns are often coping mechanisms developed in response to the unpredictable environment at home.

Growing up in an environment with an alcoholic parent can impact a child’s brain development. Stress and emotional turmoil can affect cognitive functions, including the ability to switch tasks, focus, and regulate emotions. This can lead to difficulties in school, relationships, and overall functioning.

Drapkin, Michelle, et al. “Alcohol-Specific Coping Styles of Adult Children of Individuals with Alcohol Use Disorders and Associations with Psychosocial Functioning.” Alcohol and Alcoholism (Oxford, Oxfordshire), vol. 50, no. 4, 2015, pp. 463-469, Accessed 8 Aug. 2023.

Klosterman, Keith, et al. “Coping Behavior and Depressive Symptoms in Adult Children of Alcoholics.” Journal of Addictive Diseases, vol. 30, no. 4, 2011, pp. 1162-1168, doi: 10.3109/10826080903452546. Accessed 8 Aug. 2023.

Omkarappa, Dayananda, and Rentala, Sreevani. “Anxiety, Depression, Self-Esteem among Children of Alcoholic and Nonalcoholic Parents.” Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care, vol. 8, no. 2, 2019, pp. 604-609, Accessed 8 Aug. 2023.

Park, Hyunsun. “The Development of a Screening Tool for the Adult Children of Alcoholics Traits (STACAT).” Asian Social Work and Policy Review, vol. 1, no. 1, 2007, pp. 66-77, Accessed 8 Aug. 2023.


Edited by: David Beasley

David Beasley - Design for Recovery

David Beasley is a certified RADT (Registered Alcohol/Drug Technician). David, moved to California from North Carolina after many failed attempts to get sober.

Medically Reviewed by: Charley Allen

Charley earned his Masters of Clinical Psychology from Antioch University, Los Angeles, and is a California Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT).He teaches mindfulness to both adults and children in group setting such as schools, corporate workplaces, and medical treatment facilities.

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