Adult Children of Alcoholics
What does it mean to grow up in an alcoholic home? Do adult children of alcoholics develop certain characteristics as a result? What about growing up in a home where one of parents is addicted to drugs?
These are questions that researchers in the field of addiction therapy have looked at extensively over the past 40 years. Today, almost every addiction treatmentcenter addresses what it means to have grown up in a home with addiction.
Growing Up in an Alcoholic Home
Psychologist Janet G. Woititz was one of the first who paid real attention to the situation for adult children of addicts, with her book “Adult Children of Alcoholics”. In this book, she elucidated various characteristics that she found in many of these adult children. A few of these can be that they:
- have to guess what normal behavior is in many situations
- have difficulties completing projects
- lie when it is equally simple to tell the truth
- are self-judgmental
- have difficulties having fun
- take themselves very seriously
- have problems in intimate relationships
- overreact to changes which they can’t control
- are always looking for approval and confirmation
- think they’re different
- are either extremely responsible or extremely irresponsible
- are extremely loyal, also to people who do not deserve it
- are impulsive.
It is, however, important to bear in mind that this is not a law without exceptions. Not all these adult children develop all the characteristics above. Also, some people may have one or a few of these characteristics, without being the child of an addict.
Growing Up Around Alcoholism
Some of the behavioral and physiological factors that increase a person’s risk for alcohol problems may be directly linked to genetics. Being a child of an alcoholic or having alcoholic family members places a person at greater risk for alcoholism.
Children of alcoholics (COAs), (also known as “ACAs” for adult children of alcoholics) are up to 10 times more likely to become alcoholics themselves than are children who have no close relatives with alcoholism.
COAs are also more likely to begin drinking at a young age and to progress into alcoholism more quickly. The age when someone begins drinking alcohol has been found to be a predictor for alcoholism. If someone drinks before 14, they are 5 times more likely to become an alcoholic when compared to those who don’t drink until after they’re 21.
Research shows that COAs have brain differences that may be markers for developing an alcohol abuse problem. Using brain-imaging techniques, investigators have found that COAs have a distinctive brainwave pattern that may be a marker for an increased risk of developing alcoholism.
Pinpointing genetic influences and physiological anomalies does not tell the whole story, however, as drinking behavior and alcoholism reflect a complex interplay between inherited and environmental factors.
Recovery for Adult Children of Alcoholics
Extensive research has been done with the children of alcoholics (COAs) to determine their incidence of alcoholism and other psychiatric problems. COAs have an increased risk for depression, substance abuse, and personality disorders.
Other research has revealed that COAs have increased communication apprehension, more difficulty coping with stressful events, and magnetic resonance imaging has shown that they respond differently to emotional stimuli.
The combination of psychotherapy and Al-Anon is important for this population in dealing with the effects of living with someone with a substance-related disorder, even if the events were long ago. To learn more about how counseling can help or to make an appointment, please call my office.