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The Effects of Growing Up with an Alcoholic

Children Can Be Affected Emotionally Into Adulthood

By

Updated June 13, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

A Worried Teen

Growing up in an alcoholic home can be confusing.

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Children who grow up in homes where there is active alcoholism can get many mixed messages about how they should interact with others in the family and the outside world. The emotional and psychological scars that children can develop in alcoholic homes can be so deep that they can last well into adulthood.

In the book Adult Children of Alcoholics, author Dr. Jan Woititz described the typical characteristics of adult children who grew up in alcoholic homes. Since the publication of that book in 1983, further research has shown that those characteristics can form in other developmental contexts, such as in abusive homes, foster homes or homes with a parent who has other addictive or obsessive behaviors.

If you were raised in a home with alcoholism or addiction, you may find that some of the following characteristics are very familiar. These observations were reported by other adult children of alcoholics who answered the reader's response question, "How Do You Feel Growing Up with an Alcoholic Parent Has Changed You?."

See if any of these characteristics sound familiar to you. Click on the links to see what other adult children say:

  • Have to Guess What Normal Is

    When you go into a new or unfamiliar situation, do you stand back and watch how others do things before you try it yourself? Do you ever fail to respond to a social invitation because you aren't comfortable around people you don't know?

  • Have Difficulty Having Fun

    Do you sometimes feel that nothing good ever happens to you? Do you find it hard to get excited about upcoming holidays, birthdays or celebrations? Could that be because those events were always turned into disasters by the alcoholic?

  • Have Difficulty with Intimate Relationships

    Have you ever broken off a relationship because you felt the other person was getting "too close?" Do you have problems making and keeping any long-term relationships? Could it be that you simply can't allow yourself to trust someone that much?

  • Have Trust Issues

    Can't understand how others can be so trusting, especially of people they barely know? Do you think they are being naive or foolish? Could that be a result of all the lies and broken promises that you experienced as a child from the people whom you were supposed to be able to trust the most?

  • Become Terrified of Abandonment

    Ever feel a bit panicked when someone you have known for a while decides to move away? Have you ever clung to a relationship from which you've really received very little? Is it possible that your fear of being alone is greater than your need to protect yourself from those who might take advantage of you?

  • Become Frightened of Angry People

    When people raise their voices or scream does it actually frighten you? Have you ever found yourself putting up with an unacceptable situation, just because you wanted to avoid the confrontation that it would require to change it? Do you avoid conflict at all costs?

  • Constantly Seek Approval

    Upon completing a project or task, do you find that you do not find any satisfaction until someone else acknowledges your accomplishment? Can someone's expression of dissatisfaction or even a disapproving look send you into a gloomy mood? Do you constantly look for approval from others?

  • Feel They Are Different

    Have you ever thought that if people really knew you they would not like you at all? Do you constantly try to overachieve to hide the fact that you are really not "good enough?" Have you ever thought that you were not worthy of being loved?

  • Can Become Super Responsible

    Do you ever catch yourself thinking, "They can't criticize me because I'm working harder than the rest of them." Do you find yourself trying to be perfect in everything you do? When you make a mistake, do you have a tendency to start over rather than fix the imperfection?

    Look After Yourself

    If any of these traits sound all too familiar to you, you may want to seek help and support dealing with these issues so they don't end up dominating your life. Many adult children of alcoholics have found in Al-Anon Family Groups or the support group Adult Children of Alcoholics. Just learning that you are not alone in these feelings can be a big step toward recovery.

    You also may want to take this quiz to see if you have been affected in other ways in which you may not be aware.

    Sources:

    Janet G. Woititz, "The 13 Characteristics of Adult Children," The Awareness Center. Accessed November 2010.

    Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization, "The Laundry List – 14 Traits of an Adult Child of an Alcoholic," (Attributed to Tony A., 1978). Accessed November 2010.

    Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. "Helping Yourself Heal: A Recovering Woman's Guide to Coping with Childhood Abuse Issues" Updated 2008.

  • Related Video
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