Addiction Passed Down Through Generations

By Staff Writer

When mom or dad drinks or abuses drugs, the whole family suffers. Approximately 12 percent of children in the U.S. lived with at least one parent who was dependent on or abused alcohol or an illicit drug last year, according to a report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Growing up with a parent who is addicted to drugs or alcohol can leave lasting emotional scars. Research shows that children of addicts are twice as likely to become addicts and develop emotional or behavioral problems as other children.

“The research increasingly shows that children growing up in homes with alcohol- and drug-abusing parents suffer – often greatly,” said SAMHSA acting administrator Eric Broderick. “The chronic emotional stress in such an environment can damage their social and emotional development and permanently impede healthy brain development, often resulting in mental and physical health problems across the lifespan. This underlines the importance of preventive interventions at the earliest possible age.”

Characteristics of Adult Children of Alcoholics

In his book A Primer on Adult Children of Alcoholics, Dr. Timmen L. Cermak explains that many adult children of alcoholics and addicts display the following characteristics:

• Fear of Losing Control – trying to control their own behaviors as well as those of others

• Fear of Feelings – burying feelings, both positive and negative, until they lose the ability to feel or express emotions

• Overdeveloped Sense of Responsibility – a compulsive need to be perfect and meet the needs of others, with self-esteem being based on the acceptance of others

• Feelings of Guilt – avoiding guilt by self-sacrificing and giving in to others

• Inability to Relax – being so self-controlled that they can’t have fun or let go

• Self-Criticizing – having low self-esteem

• Denial – denying that problems exist, especially when they feel threatened

• Difficulty with Intimate Relationships – repeating unsuccessful relationship patterns because of their reduced capacity for self-love and self-expression

• Victim Mentality – feeling like a victim and being attracted to other “victims”

• Compulsive Behavior – becoming addicted to drugs, alcohol, relationships, food or work

• Tendency to Confuse Love and Pity – loving people they can pity and rescue

• Fear of Abandonment – avoiding the pain of abandonment by doing whatever it takes to maintain a relationship

• Black or White Thinking – thinking in extremes rather than seeing a number of alternatives

• Physical Complaints – suffering more stress-related ill¬nesses such as migraine headaches, ulcers or irritable bowel syndrome than most people

• Delayed Grief – suffering from depression because they were unable to grieve their losses in childhood

• Reactive Personality – feeling anx¬ious and hypervigilant rather than managing stress and problems before they get out of hand

Healing from the Pain of Childhood

Although the past may seem like ancient history now, many of these issues will continue into adulthood if adult children of alcoholics and addicts don’t make conscious changes. Now that you are an adult, there are things you can do that you couldn’t do as a child.

One healthy way to cope is to get involved in Al-Anon or Adult Children of Alcoholics meetings as well as individual therapy. At these meetings, you will receive support from others in your situation and learn that a better life is possible if you reach out for help.

If you have children, take parenting courses, attend family therapy, or get your kids involved in residential treatment programs or therapeutic boarding schools to ensure that they have the best chance at living drug-free as possible. If your aging parent continues to struggle with addiction, start a conversation and do everything you can to get your loved one into a drug rehab program today.

Growing up with an alcoholic or drug addicted parent has a profound impact on children. But with help, adult children of alcoholics and addicts can learn to move beyond the pain of childhood and live their adult lives to the fullest.