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Can Having an Alcoholic Parent Affect How You Do in Relationships?

by Lisa Fritscher, studioD

Alcoholism is pervasive, and affects an estimated 76 million people in the United States. Of those, roughly 26.8 million are children. Kids who grow up in a household touched by substance abuse learn unhealthy ways of relating to others. Chaos and mistrust are rampant. Unless they are resolved, these issues often carry over to adulthood, and can affect friendships, romances and even work relationships.

Parent-Child Dynamic

Alcoholism fundamentally changes the dynamic between the alcoholic parent and the child, as well as other dynamics within the family structure. Many children of alcoholics reverse the roles entirely, becoming caregivers for their parents, especially if both parents have drinking problems. In addition, many people become angry or violent when drunk. If you were raised in an alcoholic home, your parents might have made you feel fearful and guilty that you were not able to fix the problems. These unhealthy dynamics often carry over into adult relationships.

Children of Alcoholics

Alcoholic parents often pressure their children to keep the dysfunction secret. Children learn to suppress their own needs and desires in favor of taking care of their parents, to preserve a sense of home life. Consequently, you might suffer from depression, social isolation, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and a tendency to overreact to stimuli that remind you of your childhood.

Codependency and Control Issues

Alcoholic homes are frequently out of control. Children of alcoholics learn that home and family are frightening and that they cannot trust home and family. As an adult, you might feel a strong compulsion toward over-control your immediate environment, including the people who mean the most to you. Codependency, or the willingness to sacrifice your own needs for someone else, is a key to survival in an alcoholic home. You will likely seek out similarly codependent adult relationships because they feel familiar.

Getting Help

The key to moving past your childhood is learning to separate today’s reality from yesterday’s pain. Your current problems may be rooted in your past, but you can learn to face them as an adult. However, it is nearly impossible to do this alone. Consider joining a group such as Al-Anon or Co-Dependents Anonymous. Both groups provide peer support from others who have been through similar situations. In addition, seek individual therapy from a licensed mental health professional. Your therapist can help you resolve lingering feelings, forgive yourself and your family, and learn healthier ways of coping with your current life situations.


  • Adult Children of Alcoholics: Judith Woititz

About the Author

Lisa Fritscher is a freelance writer specializing in disabled adventure travel. She spent 15 years working for Central Florida theme parks and frequently travels with her disabled father. Fritscher's work can be found in both print and online mediums, including VisualTravelTours.com. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University of South Florida.

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