Marriage Problems for Adult Children of Alcoholics

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Alcoholism in the home affects not only the alcoholic, but the entire family. Eighteen percent of adult Americans today lived with an alcoholic parent while growing up. Research suggests that the experience of having lived with an alcoholic parent can have serious detrimental effects for a child in later life, including how to approach and deal with interpersonal relationships. The exposure to alcoholism often shapes a person's behavior and feelings regarding such relationships and marriage, which can lead to a higher level of dissatisfaction and, in some cases, divorce.

Intimacy and Trust Issues

Exposure to an alcoholic parent during childhood can lead to intimacy and trust issues in marriage. Adult children may have learned from their previous relationships that people cannot be trusted and that if they do trust, they will get hurt. This lack of trust can lead to problems with intimacy and being open and honest in their marriages.

Problems With Family Responsibility

Adult children of alcoholics tend to have problems with their sense of family responsibility, which is a vital part of a healthy marriage. Some adults who lived with an alcoholic parent have never learned what this responsibility means, and may show similar traits to and behave like their irresponsible parent. Some adult children of alcoholics develop an overdeveloped sense of responsibility towards caring for others in order to avoid personal difficulties, at the risk of neglecting their own needs and wants.

Fear of Abandonment

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Living with an alcoholic parent during childhood can cause a fear of abandonment during adulthood, which can affect how that adult approaches and handles marriage. From childhood experience, adults learn to expect inconsistent and unpredictable relationships in which their loved one could choose to leave at any time. In an attempt to stop a partner from leaving, an adult child of an alcoholic will most likely do anything to avoid conflict and the pain of being abandoned. Often the fear of abandonment becomes focused and the underlying issues are ignored, which can cause frequent problems in intimate relationships.


Living with an alcoholic parent can cause extreme co-dependency in adults. These adults often have powerful, unhealthy needs which, when carried into marriage, can have a negative impact. Adult children of alcoholics will usually find that their feelings of self worth and their self-esteem come from feeling loved, which causes them to constantly crave attention and approval.