Adult Children of Alcoholics: Complicated Childhood, Complex Adulthood

Adult Children of Alcoholics: Complicated Childhood, Complex Adulthood

On 12 Nov 2014, in Alcoholism, family issues, mental health

By Tom Gonzalez, PhD, LPC, LCPC

Most of our childhoods were full of happiness, fulfillment and good memories. Even as adults we all have times when childhood memories beckon us to the point where we daydream and sometimes even hope that we could relive our youth.

But for many, those childhood memories are not so good. Unhappy memories might include recollections of times when one (or sometimes both) of our parents or caregivers were under the influence of alcohol. During those times, we, as children, found ourselves assuming roles that weren’t so childlike.

We may remember one of our parents or caretakers assuming the role of the other. Why? Because the other parent was unable to fulfill his or her duties and responsibilities as a parent due to the influence of alcohol. Or we may remember unusual or uncomfortable experiences, times when we played many different roles within the family -- the hero, the scapegoat, the lost child, the mascot. Those roles were not fun or fulfilling. Eventually each of the children in those roles grew up.

Today we refer to adults who survived the many complex and sometimes harrowing experiences as children with an alcoholic parent as “adult children of alcoholics.” In her book Adult Children of Alcoholics, Janet Geringer Woititz listed some of the things adult children may find themselves doing:

  • Guessing at what is normal
  • Difficulty in following a project from beginning to end
  • Lying when it would be just as easy to tell the truth
  • Judging her/himself without mercy
  • Difficulty having fun
  • Taking him/herself very seriously
  • Having difficulty with intimate relationships
  • Over-reacting to things over which they have no control
  • Constantly seeking approval and affirmation
  • Feeling that s/he is different than other people
  • Being either super-responsible or super-irresponsible
  • Being extremely loyal, even in the face of evidence that the loyalty is undeserved
  • Being impulsive

Adult children of alcoholics can find themselves in a quandary: their childhood experiences and memories were not the happiest -- and now, as adults, they find themselves challenged or even haunted by the effects of their developmental experiences over which they had no control and very little choice. What can be done?

Today there are people and self-help groups who can assist adult children. BJC EAP can help you work through issues, traits and behaviors that may stem from your childhood. The experienced and knowledgeable BJC EAP consultants can also provide information about self-help meetings and other resources.

For more information, contact us or call 314.729.4030 or 888.505. 6444.

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