In the first three articles, we have discussed that growing up in an alcoholic or other dysfunctional home changes the lives of the children involved forever. Alcoholism is a family disease that affects everyone and harms children.

In this article, we shall explore paths to healing and hope.

The Connection Between Alcoholism and Childhood Trauma

Drinking alcohol alone does not harm children. However, when drinking alcohol becomes an addiction, the behaviors, and circumstances of the adult and ultimately their children are changed for the worst.

The impact of growing up in a home with one or more alcoholics reverberates throughout an adult’s life. Research is clear that there is a link between growing up in a household with alcoholics and the potential for trauma to children.

There are many different forms of trauma experienced by children of alcoholic parents, including the following.

Chronic Trauma. While many alcoholics are not violent, some are, and this behavior affects children significantly. Chronic trauma can develop due to neglect, emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, and domestic violence.

Complex Trauma. Often, children feel trapped and unable to escape from families caught up in the tragedy of alcoholism in their families. This sense of being trapped undermines a child’s sense of safety in the world and begins a lifetime of exhausting hypervigilance, where they constantly monitor their environment for possible threats.

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). ACEs cover an extensive range of situations where children directly face lousy behavior by their parents while growing up. Alcoholism is one of these adverse childhood experiences, and it can disrupt the normal development of coping skills. Children growing up in an alcoholic home will experience in adulthood many adverse effects.

Some of The Symptoms of Being an Adult Child of an Alcoholic (ACOA)

Being an adult child of an alcoholic leaves the person reeling and looking for answers. Sometimes ACOAs become alcoholics themselves or use other drugs to ease their pain, which is a remnant of growing up in an alcoholic home.

Some of the most common symptoms that adult children of alcoholics experience are as follows.

A Need for Control. 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. As you might imagine, being a control freak can lead to problems with intimate relationships.

Hypervigilance. Often, people who grew up in an alcoholic home are hypervigilant and constantly alert for danger. Being aware of everything going on in the environment stems from the shame and pain experienced in childhood. While hypervigilance is a coping mechanism, it becomes a liability in adulthood when one is constantly waiting for someone to attack or something terrible to happen.

Difficulty Dealing with Emotions. Growing up in 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.

Having Low Self-Esteem. Adult children of alcoholics often have a low sense of self-esteem and self-worth. ACOAs often feel very uncomfortable when receiving recognition or praise, even when these two things are precisely what they are seeking. 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.

Mental and Physical Health Problems. Trauma, such as growing up in an alcoholic home, can leave the adult child of an alcoholic in isolation and at higher risk for depression. Growing up in an alcoholic home can also lead to poor self-care routines leaving the person open for disease.

Healing from Parental Alcoholism

Just because a person grew up living under the effects of parental alcoholism does not mean they cannot thrive in adulthood. ACOAs can change their lives by beginning a new chapter in their life to experience hope, love, and joy.

The journey adult children of alcoholics have traveled until they begin healing may seem complicated and difficult, but healing is not only possible but is probable.

Children of alcoholic parents deserve and have the fundamental right to confront their past, speak honestly of its impact, and make a better future for themselves.

For instance, survivors of alcoholic homes need to find a safe place to talk about what they have experienced.

There are support groups, such as Al-Anon and Adult Children of Alcoholics, that exist to help people who have experienced the effects of living with an alcoholic through the use of a twelve-step program similar to that of Alcoholics Anonymous. Also, one must not forget that seeking out professional therapy from a counselor or therapist can help incredibly. In therapy, one might discover a great deal about oneself in overcoming the side-effects of growing up with an alcoholic parent.

Getting treatment for any addictions the adult child of an alcoholic has formed is vital to healing. To continue to abuse oneself only carries on the legacy of those who hurt you and gives them power over your life even if they are now deceased.

Identifying and questioning one’s beliefs about oneself is also critical to healing. As ACOAs begin to talk openly about what happened to them, they will discover they harbor beliefs based on what they experienced in childhood that has been internalized. Below is a shortlist of some of these false beliefs:

“My needs are not as important as those of other people.”

“I’m not enough.”

“Nothing ever changes.”

“I do not deserve to be happy.”

Setting and enforcing healthy boundaries is also critical to healing, as one can fight off anyone who would interfere with your healing. As an adult, ACOAs have the right to build boundaries and expect others to observe them, even the person’s parents.

Finally, healing involves practicing new life skills that were not formed while growing up in an alcoholic home. With the help of a counselor or therapist, anyone can learn how to live an adult life in an effective and fulfilling way. Some of the skills you can learn include:

  • Saying no to other people without any guilt
  • Making important decisions without doubting oneself
  • Solving problems with mental clarity
  • Asking for what you need and want
  • Engaging with the world in a proactive way
  • Standing up for oneself
  • Regulating one’s emotions
  • Finding humor in life’s challenges
  • Understanding that life isn’t easy or fair for anyone, not just you

Learning life skills will help accomplish much as you learn to live without unreasonable fear or disappointment with yourself.

Thriving as a Mature Adult Who Grew Up in an Alcoholic Home

Your life today is entirely up to you. No matter where you have been or what has happened to you, your happiness depends solely on what you wish your life to be and not on anyone else’s opinion of what you should look like.

It is vital to remember that you are not alone. Many people, including celebrities such as Halle Berry, grew up in families affected by alcoholism. Indeed, a 2019 study revealed that one in five American adults has grown up with an alcoholic in their home. Millions of people experience long-term effects from living in an alcoholic home, including mood disorders like depression, anxiety, and the risk of substance abuse.

One cannot go back in time to change the behaviors of the people you grew up with. The only path towards healing involves seeking treatment and advocating for change.

Adult children of alcoholic parents are resilient, thriving in the wake of the conflict they experienced when they were children, and it is time that you utilize that resilience to change your life for the better and become a thriver.

“The journey is never-ending. There’s always gonna be growth, improvement, adversity; you just gotta take it all in and do what’s right, continue to grow, continue to live in the moment.” Antonio Brown

“If you live long enough, you’ll make mistakes. But if you learn from them, you’ll be a better person. It’s how you handle adversity, not how it affects you. The main thing is never quit, never quit, never quit.” William J. Clinton

CPTSD Foundation Awareness Wristbands

Official CPTSD Foundation wristbands to show the world you support awareness, research, and healing from complex trauma.

The official CPTSD Foundation wristbands were designed by our Executive Director, Athena Moberg, to promote healing and awareness benefits all survivors. We hope you’ll consider purchasing one for yourself and perhaps one for a family member, friend, or other safe people who could help raise awareness for complex trauma research and healing.

Each purchase of $12 helps fund our scholarship program, which provides access to our programs and resources to survivors in need.



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As always, if you or a loved one live in the despair and isolation that comes with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, please, come to us for help. CPTSD Foundation offers a wide range of services, including: