PTSD Adult Children of Alcoholics & Dysfunctional Families


Maybe your parent was irritable, easily aggravated, or verbally or emotionally abusive while drinking or in withdrawal. Experiencing these behaviors from a parent can also wear down your self-worth over time. Consequently, you might become more sensitive to alcohol effects on eyes bloodshot puffy yellow eyes after drinking criticism and rejection and have a harder time standing up for yourself. What’s more, children who had to act as parents to their own parents may go on to believe it’s their responsibility to take care of others, which can lead to codependent relationships.

Alcohol Use in Families: Impact on Adult Children

  1. Talk therapy one-on-one or group counseling, somatic experiencing, and EMDR are highly effective in addressing the signs of trauma and developing new, healthy coping mechanisms.
  2. This is a huge lesson for many—for better or worse, addiction is outside of friends’ and family members’ control.
  3. I developed this list from years of clinical practice with ACOAs.
  4. One of the most common issues reported was a lack of trust in adults (more than 1 in 5).

From my own clinical experience, I would also add grief and loneliness to the list of negative emotions that can contribute to drinking as a means of coping. These emotional states were not specifically measured in this study. However, many victims of childhood abuse report feeling lonely and isolated as adults, and many also experience grief related to the “loss” of love that they suffered. Most of the adult children of alcoholics who I know underestimate the effects of being raised in an alcoholic family. More likelyits shame and simply not knowingthat adult children of alcoholics (ACOAs), as a group, tend to struggle with a particular set of issues.

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If this was the case with your parent, you may have learned to pay attention to small, subtle signs at a young age. Never entirely sure how they’d act or react, you might have found yourself constantly on high alert, ready to respond accordingly and protect yourself. Official CPTSD Foundation wristbands to show the world you support awareness, research, and healing from complex trauma. Learning life skills will help accomplish much as you learn to live without unreasonable fear or disappointment with yourself. Because their world was chaotic and out of control growing up, ACOAs tend to want to control and hyper-focus on controlling their behavior and those around them.

Addiction and Mental Health Resources

There are several actions that could trigger this block including submitting a certain word or phrase, a SQL command or malformed data. It may initially feel daunting to uncover past traumas, but you can heal—and multiple pathways can help you get there. Aron Janssen, MD is board certified in child, adolescent, and adult psychiatry and is the vice chair of child and adolescent psychiatry Northwestern University. The ACE scoring tool serves as an example of how there is a high chance of some sort of impact on the child. Rebecca Strong is a Boston-based freelance writer covering health and wellness, fitness, food, lifestyle, and beauty.

Research has shown the deep psychological impression of parental alcohol use over COAs. Although people with AUD aren’t “bad” people (or “bad” parents), their alcohol use can create a home environment not suited for a child. A 2021 study shows that parental alcohol abuse significantly increases the chance of having a dysfunctional family environment. When you don’t learn how to regulate your emotions, cocaine withdrawal you might find it more difficult to understand what you’re feeling and why, not to mention maintain control over your responses and reactions. Difficulty expressing and regulating emotions can affect your overall well-being and contribute to challenges in your personal relationships. Getting treatment for any addictions the adult child of an alcoholic has formed is vital to healing.

Therapists and other mental health professionals with experience dealing with addiction can help. Some adult children of parents with AUD take themselves very seriously, finding it extremely difficult to give themselves a break. If they had a tumultuous upbringing, they may have little self-worth and low self-esteem and can develop deep feelings of inadequacy. Studies show a correlation between malnutrition and physical abuse in adult children of alcoholics. A 2012 study that considered 359 adult children of parents with AUD found that they tended to fall within five distinct personality subtypes. One of these types, termed Awkward/Inhibited by researchers, was characterized by feelings of inadequacy and powerlessness.

Adult children of alcoholics can be sensitive to any type of perceived negative feedback or criticism, leaving them suspicious of anyone who offers them a critique of what they are doing. They further identify novel networks of alcohol use risk in youth, which may be used to identify adolescents who are at risk and inform intervention efforts. A high percentage of Adult Children who grew up in dysfunctional families dealt with our own brand of war zones where we were subjected to frequent, sometimes daily, traumatic events. This type of on-going trauma is generally referred to as Complex PTSD or C-PTSD. Many Adult Children are constantly on the alert, surveying our environment – whether we are doing it consciously or unconsciously. Out of necessity, you took on some of your parents’responsibilities.

In a study of more than 25,000 adults, those who had a parent with AUD remembered their childhoods as “difficult” and said they struggled with “bad memories” of their parent’s alcohol misuse. Some people experience this as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), like other people who had different traumatic childhood experiences. The previous set of traumas impacts the ability of children of alcoholics to develop healthy social skills and social bonds. For example, studies indicate that daughters with fathers suffering from alcohol use disorder tend to create more insecure attachment behaviors in comparison with those with non-alcoholic fathers.

Conversely, Peifer notes that some children who grow up in these environments may become more attention-seeking in order to fulfill the needs their parents couldn’t meet. They might eventually form unstable or unhealthy attachments to others, partially because these bonds feel familiar. Growing up in 6 strategies to safely detox for pregnancy an alcoholic home meant the children learning to hide their emotions such as sadness, anger, and shame. Because of this stuffing of emotions in childhood, many ACOAs find they cannot express positive emotions. Being an adult child of an alcoholic leaves the person reeling and looking for answers.