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Adult Children of Alcoholics

Adult children of alcoholics have many obstacles to conquer. Even though alcoholism is widely recognized as a major problem in our society, many do not realize the impact which this problem has on the persons who grew up in an environment of alcohol or Drug Abuse. This experience results in a recognizable and treatable problem which often transfers from one generation to the next. Despite the widespread recognition and acceptance of alcoholism as a family problem, children of alcoholics continue to be ignored, misdiagnosed, and under treated. Adult children of alcoholics are prone to experience a range of psychological difficulties including learning disabilities, anxiety, attempted and completed suicides, eating disorders, over-achieving and other forms of compulsive behavior.

Do these survival roles sound familiar? Growing up in an alcoholic family, you may have taken on the role of the hero or responsible one, the rebel or scapegoat, the clown, or the lost child. You may even have taken on the role of abusing alcohol. Children of Alcohol Abusers often become successes or failures largely in reaction to the financial and emotional insecurity, social embarrassment, and other painful alcohol-related experiences they had at home. The experiences, beliefs, and behaviors established in early childhood often travel into adulthood and can grow stronger over time if not addressed.

Research indicates that children growing up with an alcoholic are:

  • Four times as likely to become alcoholic
  • More likely to abuse other drugs
  • More likely to develop other patterns of compulsive behavior such as overeating and other eating disorders
  • Twice as likely to marry alcoholics
  • More likely to attempt or commit suicide
  • Over the years, those who have studied the "Adult Children of Alcoholics" phenomenon have compiled a list of common characteristics which many people who grew up in dysfunctional homes seem to share. You may recognize some of them.

    The following characteristics were developed by Dr. Janet G. Woititz.

    Adult Children of Alcoholics:

  • guess at what normal is
  • have difficulty in following a project through 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
  • feel that they are different from other people
  • are either super responsible or super irresponsible
  • are extremely loyal, even in the face of evidence that loyalty is undeserved
  • tend to lock themselves into a course of action without giving serious consideration to alternative behaviors or possible consequences. This impulsivity leads to confusion, self loathing, and loss of control of their environment. As a result, they spend tremendous amounts of time cleaning up the mess.
  • Adult children of alcoholics often retain their childhood patterns. The super-responsible child may grow into an adult who demands perfectionism. The child who is the family.s scapegoat may have legal or financial troubles throughout life. The child who used to adjust to anything may be passive and withdrawn as an adult. And the family clown may group up to be entertaining, but irresponsible.

    An adult child of an alcoholic may be anxious, may try to control events and relationships, may have trouble being intimate, may be chronically depressed or have stress-related health problems. Tragically, many children of alcoholics either become chemically dependent themselves or marry alcoholics.

    There is nothing wrong with holding onto hope that your relative or friend will free themselves from the desire for alcohol. You certainly may be able to help if you can understand the causes for the need to drink alcohol, some methods for dealing with a drinker with whom you have a relationship, and some cautions you should take. The desire to drink alcohol is centered in its anesthetic effect. Drinking alcohol helps the drinker avoid emotional pain: stress, fear, anxiety, or guilt. The fact that the situation is always much worse when the drinker sobers up somehow seems not to make much difference to them. The sad part is that the deep emotional needs, the inability to cope with fears and failures, and the psychological habits formed by drinking, are very unhealthy and not what was intended for mankind in the greater picture. When drinkers train themselves to react wrongly to life situations for many years, they find it very difficult to learn to make different behavior choices.

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