children with an alcoholic parent, parent struggling with alcohol abuse and addiction

Growing up with an alcoholic parent, whether it’s mom or dad or both parents, can have a profound and long-lasting impact on children. Children of alcoholics (COAs) can experience various challenges regarding emotional, psychological, and social development.

How Growing Up with an Alcoholic Parent Affects Children in the Long Term

Approximately 10.5% of children Growing up with a parent who struggles with alcohol abuse can inflict more internal damage than most children and parents are aware of. Adolescent and adult children of alcoholics often develop specific personality characteristics as a result of growing up in a toxic household. Studies show that adult children of alcoholics (ACOAs) experience higher levels of emotional distress, more interpersonal struggles, and increased difficulties at work.

young girl experiencing the impact of growing up with an alcoholic parent, therapy for alcohol addicted parent

Some personality traits of adult children of alcoholics (ACOAs) may include:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Higher dependency
  • Manipulative behaviors
  • Perfectionism
  • Impulsivity
  • Angry or hostile
  • Social anxiety
  • Hyperconscientious or high-functioning
  • Lack of control over emotions
  • Engages in alcohol or drug abuse
  • Mental health issues (depression, anxiety, loneliness, rage)
  • Oversexualizes themselves
  • Risky behaviors
  • Self-harm

Living with an alcoholic parent can be an unhealthy, tumultuous environment for children of any age. High-functioning alcoholic parents can still have a lasting impact on their child’s early development, resulting in a range of emotional, social, and psychological issues. Adult children of alcoholics (ACOAs) are likelier to struggle with emotional regulation, mental health, self-esteem, trust issues, the need for control, and forming healthy relationships.

Mental Health Issues

Growing up with a parent with alcohol use disorder (AUD) is often characterized by a constant state of worry or fear due to their unpredictable behavior. Children may experience heightened levels of anxiety, stress, and depression as a result. These mental health issues can progress into adulthood, leading to the development of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and major depressive disorder (MDD). Adult children of alcoholics may carry this fear of unpredictability into other areas of their lives, whether it’s in personal or professional relationships.

Emotional Dysregulation

Alcoholics often struggle to express and regulate their emotions, which can teach children to do the same. Without a stable role model, children will adopt methods for controlling their feelings, which may or may not be constructive. Emotional dysregulation in children of alcoholic parents may experience overwhelming emotions, impulsive behaviors, bad temper, and trouble forming and maintaining social connections.

man struggling with alcohol abuse and alcoholism from alcoholic parent, treatment for alcohol abuse

Self-judgement and Low Self-Esteem

Adult children of parents with AUD often struggle with low self-esteem as a result of frequent criticism or neglect from the alcoholic parent. Feeling neglected and constantly criticized can lead to feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy. Some children will take these emotions and do everything they can to achieve perfectionism and their goals to prove their worth. While being ambitious and goal-oriented is a positive trait, this can be incredibly toxic as ACOAs don’t allow themselves a break or feel like they’re ever enough.

Trust Issues

Parents with alcohol use disorder (AUD) are often secretive, manipulative, and harsh towards others in the household. It can be difficult to trust an alcoholic parent or anyone else when you’re used to being hurt or let down. This can produce trust issues in friendships, romantic relationships, and professional connections, making it difficult to trust someone’s word or intentions.

Growing up with a parent who struggles with alcohol abuse is often filled with false promises that they’re going to quit drinking or won’t ever treat you like that again. Most of the time, they don’t stop drinking, and they continue with their harmful words and actions, further exacerbating your trust issues.

The Need for Control

Adults who grew up with an alcoholic parent may experience a need for control over situations, people, and the outcome. This is a common coping mechanism for children of alcoholics who are accustomed to somewhat chaotic and dysfunctional environments. The need for control may also manifest in COAs trying to control their parent’s drinking habits. Adolescents and adult children may believe they can fix their parent’s addictive tendencies and get them to stop drinking.

When they realize they can’t control their parent’s alcohol abuse, they attempt to control other things in their lives. Examples of this controlling behavior might be the need to plan everything, getting upset when things don’t go your way, perfectionism, or the inability to be spontaneous.

Difficulty Forming Healthy Relationships

Every one of the emotional and psychological characteristics of adult children of alcoholics can make it incredibly challenging for them to uphold healthy relationships. Building social connections in adulthood is problematic in and of itself, and for someone who grew up with an alcoholic parent, it can be even more strenuous.

From struggling with constant manipulation, secrets, and unfulfilled promises, adult children of alcoholics may have increased anxiety, trust issues, and emotional instability when it comes to relationships. These toxic relationship patterns learned from alcoholic parents can cause chaos and unhealthy coping mechanisms in friendships, romantic relationships, work, and parenting your children.

Social Withdrawal or Isolation

Another long-term impact of growing up with an alcoholic parent can lead adult children to feel unworthy of love, causing them to withdraw and isolate themselves. ACOAs may do this due to feeling uncomfortable in social situations and having trouble socializing and making friends. This can further exacerbate existing mental health conditions or contribute to the development of depression, anxiety, and loneliness.

man getting therapy and treatment for dealing with the impact of an alcoholic parent, alcohol addiction treatment

Higher Risk of Alcohol Misuse

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a family disease that heightens the risk of developing AUD in children of alcoholics. The family dysfunction of growing up with a parent with a drinking problem can be transmitted from generation to generation. Witnessing your parent’s addictive behaviors, impulsive decisions, and maladaptive coping strategies can influence your own substance abuse and emotional dysfunction.

Just because your parent struggled with alcohol abuse or an alcohol use disorder (AUD) does not mean you will, too. Attending therapy can help adolescents and adult children of alcoholic parents adopt healthy coping strategies and emotional patterns. Establishing a strong support network through friends, family, and support groups can aid emotional healing and personal development.

For alcohol addiction treatment in West Palm Beach, FL, reach out to Rock Recovery. Our South Florida alcohol rehab programs for alcohol use disorder (AUD) utilize evidence-based therapies and addiction treatment modalities to ensure long-term recovery and wellness.