If you’re an adult child of an alcoholic, you might describe your childhood as traumatic. Many such people do. But many don’t realize that their alcoholic parent’s behavior can continue to affect them as they grow into adulthood. In fact, that trauma can stick with you throughout your entire adult life. There’s even a name for it: adult child of an alcoholic (ACOA) trauma syndrome.
Promises Behavioral Health provides compassionate and effective PTSD and trauma treatment for individuals who have experienced the trauma of having an alcoholic parent. Call 844.875.5609 today to learn how we can help you improve your mental health and move forward from past trauma.
Why Is It Traumatic to Have an Alcoholic Parent?
It’s not unusual for the child of an alcoholic parent to feel the impact of growing up in an alcoholic home. It’s not at all an overstatement to label these effects as trauma. Parents are supposed to make their children feel safe, protected, and secure. But when a parent is an alcoholic, life can be chaotic and feels anything but secure.
Neglect and Chaos
Growing up in a home where a parent is an alcoholic often has a long-term impact. Having an alcoholic may mean being neglected. Children of alcoholics are also more at risk of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. As well as these issues, when a parent is an alcoholic, home life is often chaotic. There may be a lack of rules and boundaries. There may be frequent arguments and even violence.
A Secret Shame
Having an alcoholic parent can be a source of shame and embarrassment for a child. Because of this, children of alcoholics often become secretive. They may try to prevent friends from visiting their homes or meeting their parents. They’re also likely to feel guilty about being ashamed.
Parenting a Parent
When a child has an alcoholic parent, they are likely to see that parent act in ways that make them feel insecure. They may see their parent act out of control or are too drunk to care for themselves. When this happens, the child doesn’t just experience the trauma of knowing that their parent isn’t able to take care of them in the way a parent should. They may be forced into a kind of role reversal, where they have to act as a parent to their own parent. This is particularly common for the oldest child in the home, who may end up taking on cooking, cleaning, and other household chores, as well as parenting siblings.
The Failure to Fix What’s Broken
Some children of alcoholic parents take on an additional burden. They start to believe that it’s their responsibility to “fix” their parent. They think that if they can behave—be a model child—and do everything right, they can make everything right. Of course, this is impossible. Addiction isn’t the child’s fault, and they don’t have the power to fix it. But, they see their inability to do so as a failure, and this can add to their feelings of guilt and shame. Children who turn to this kind of perfectionism as a coping mechanism often remain perfectionists in adulthood.
The Long-Term Effects of Growing Up in an Alcoholic Home
Growing up in an alcoholic home can have long-term, damaging effects on the emotional and psychological well-being of a child. These long-term effects can include higher levels of anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues, as well as difficulties with forming healthy relationships and engaging in positive behaviors. Children may also be more vulnerable to developing substance use disorders themselves as they grow older. In addition, research has shown that children of alcoholics are more likely to suffer from physical health problems, including an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Finally, growing up in an alcoholic home can affect a child’s educational performance and success, as well as their career prospects later in life. All of these long-term effects can have a significant and lasting impact on an individual’s life.
It is important to remember that there is hope and healing available for those who have been affected by growing up in an alcoholic home. With the right kind of help and support from family, friends, and professionals, those who have been affected can learn to cope with the long-term effects of PTSD from an alcoholic parent and build a more positive future for themselves. With the right kind of help, it is possible to overcome these long-term effects and move forward with a more positive future.
What Kind of Treatment Can Aid in Recovery?
People with ACOA trauma syndrome often grow up with a strong desire to leave their childhood behind them. They’d rather bury it than ever think about it again. Unfortunately, repressing the trauma doesn’t make it go away. It might be buried, but it’s not gone and forgotten. Recovery only comes with the willingness to bring it into the light so it can be dealt with. The most effective way to do this is in therapy, where all the conflicting feelings and repressed emotions can be understood and processed. In therapy, the adult child can learn the following:
- The parent’s addiction isn’t their fault and never was.
- They are not responsible for fixing their parent and don’t have the power to do so.
- The different habits and coping strategies they developed in childhood. They can examine each of these and their impact on their adult life. They can then decide if they’re worth keeping or if they want to work on changing them.
- How to feel safe in intimate relationships, and how to recognize unhealthy relationship patterns.
Some people have co-occurring disorders, such as depression or anxiety, or a personality disorder. It’s important to get treatment for these issues, too. They make a significant impact on day-to-day life and long-term health and happiness. For most people, a combination of therapy and medication is helpful to the recovery process.
Begin to Heal From Trauma at Promises Behavioral Health
If you’re struggling with PTSD or trauma, it can be difficult to know where to turn for help. At Promises Behavioral Health, we understand the unique challenges of healing from traumatic experiences. Our team of licensed clinicians and compassionate support staff are here to provide you with evidence-based therapeutic care that can help you find relief. Call 844.875.5609 or fill out our online contact form to learn more.