There are 18 million alcoholics in the U.S. according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. As a result, an estimated 26.8 million children are exposed, at varying degrees, to alcoholism in the family and are children of alcoholics. These children are at higher risk for alcoholism and other drug abuse than are children of non-alcoholics, and are more likely to marry an alcoholic as well. Children of alcoholics or addicts are commonly referred to as “COA.”
For years and years, all the efforts at understanding and treating alcoholism have focused primarily on alcoholics and the havoc this disease has brought to their lives. Later, groups such as Al-Anon and Alateen examined the effects that alcoholism had on the relatives and friends of alcoholics. Most recently, national Children of Alcoholics groups have drawn considerable attention to this subject. Five years ago, there were only 21 members of the National Association for Children of Alcoholics; today this organization has swelled to more than 7,000 members.
Growing up in a family where one or both of the parents are alcoholic can be extremely painful and emotionally traumatic to the point where even many years later the child of the alcoholic, now an adult, will still be suffering from the scars. And this can lead many children of alcoholics to become alcoholics themselves. The roles and responsibilities that children of alcoholics take on as well as their idea of normal are extremely skewed and warped. It is very common that children of alcoholics become “superchildren” responsible for running the family, feeding their alcoholic parents, while also living in constant fear of their alcoholic parents. They also feel guilt about not being able to save their alcoholic parents. All of these emotions as well as poor self-image and an inability to have satisfactory relationships can cause many children of alcoholics to turn to exactly what they hated about their alcoholic parents; alcohol, in order to cope with it all.
Some other characteristic of children of alcoholic parents are that they:
- Guess at what normal is.
- Have difficulty in following a project through from beginning to end.
- Lie when it would be just as easy to tell the truth.
- Judge themselves without mercy.
- Have difficulty having fun.
- Take themselves very seriously.
- Have difficulty with intimate relationships.
- Overreact to changes over which they have no control.
- Constantly seek approval and affirmation.
- Feel that they are different from other people.
- Are either super responsible or super irresponsible.
- Are extremely loyal, even in the face of evidence that loyalty is undeserved.
These psychological scars as well as the genetic traits for alcoholism result in a very high percentage of alcoholism, 25 percent, among children of alcoholics who turn into alcoholics themselves. They literally become alcoholic children of alcoholics. Even if the child of an alcoholic doesn’t become an adult alcoholic, other psychological problems may result, such as obsessive-compulsive disorders and the unrealistic need to be perfect. Alcoholic children of alcoholics or adult children of alcoholics who aren’t alcoholics may also suffer from codependency issues either from drugs and drinking themselves or because of living with someone who has basically stopped functioning as a human being, their alcoholic parents.
If you or someone you love is an alcoholic child of an alcoholic, please give us a call at 800-951-6135.