Alcohol use disorder is often referred to as a “family disease” precisely because it affects the entire family, including the children. Usually, there’s more focus on how alcohol affects marital satisfaction, but it naturally affects parenting skills as well. Families where one or several members have an alcohol addiction tend to have lower levels of emotional bonding, so the children may not receive the kind of emotional support they need causing them to develop behavioral problems themselves.
Not getting their emotional needs met as children can result in growing up without developing the skills to get these emotional needs met as adults in relationships with other adults. Furthermore, children that come from families affected by alcohol use disorder may develop certain emotional and behavioral patterns that affect the way they interact with others.
Trust & Intimacy
Growing up with an alcoholic parent means your home environment can feel very unpredictable. This can make it hard to form close and trusting relationships as an adult. In some cases, children can develop mental health challenges such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD that they will try to manage by self-medicating with alcohol since this has been normalized in their environment. If you recognize yourself in this description, the best course of action would be to look for a credentialed dual diagnosis treatment center because treating the addiction alone will not address the underlying cause, and the risk of relapse is higher.
In other cases, they do the opposite. They find partners that display some of the features of their parents and try to “save” or “fix” them.
Most often, if one of your parents was an alcoholic, you may not even realize how much it has affected you until you try to enter an intimate relationship and find yourself unable to really trust the other person. The lies and broken promises, the denial, and having to keep secrets add up and make you feel safer when you don’t let yourself fully trust someone or let them get too close to you.
A Sense of Normalcy
Since you didn’t experience what it’s like to grow up in a healthy, harmonious family environment, as an adult, you may find yourself trying to guess what “normal” means. When you were a child, your family may have normalized alcoholism and its consequences but, by sharing stories with your peers, you realized that your family is different, which made you get an unwavering sense that you are different and that you have to “act normal” in order to fit in.
At the same time, many alcoholic parents project their own feelings of inadequacy on their children and blame them for their struggles and shortcomings.
These two factors, combined, can lead to developing a harsh attitude towards yourself. You keep criticizing yourself because you’ve internalized the idea that you’re fundamentally dysfunctional, and once people get too close, they’ll see it and think you’re crazy, bad, and unlovable.
To avoid criticism from others and from yourself, you try to be a perfect version of yourself, to act the way you believe a “normal” well-adjusted person would act. But no matter what you achieve, it doesn’t break the cycle because you feel like you have to work extra hard to keep up the “act.”