A parent’s alcohol use disorder (AUD) can have a major impact on your mental and emotional well-being — not just in your childhood, but also well into your adulthood.
AUD is a mental health condition that can prove very difficult to manage and overcome. That’s why most experts now avoid terms like “alcoholic” and “alcoholism,” and why the most recent edition of the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)” uses updated terminology to define Substance use. disorders.
This change highlights the behavior separately from the person, which helps promote compassion and understanding of addiction while reducing shame and misunderstandings, explains Janelle S. Peifer, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist and founder of the Center for Inclusive Therapy + Wellness.
Peifer says that even people with a higher genetic risk for AUD can take a harm reduction approach if they learn to better understand their risk factors.
If your parent never gets support or treatment for their alcohol use, it can still affect you.
Everyone’s experience is different, but experts have noted a number of characteristics shared by people who grew up with a parent living with AUD, including:
- Fear of abandonment.
- Difficult forming intimate bonds.
- Fear of change.
- Feelings of being inadequate.
“You will find seven ways a parent’s AUD can affect you as an adult, along with some guidance on seeking support.”
Growing up with a parent who has AUD can create an environment of unpredictability, fear, confusion, and distress, says Peifer. These conditions can take a toll on your sense of safety, which may then affect the way you communicate with and relate to others.
“If you couldn’t depend on your parent to feed you breakfast or take you to school in the morning, you may have become self reliant early on. Peifer says you could have difficulty accepting love, nurturing, and care from partners, friends, or others later in life.”
Peifer believes that some children who grow up in these environments may become more attention-seeking in order to fulfill their parents needs. They might form unstable or unhealthy bonds to others because they feel familiar.
Peifer says that the fear of emotional pain may make it hard for adult children of parents with AUD to be close to others.
- Trust issues, which could mean you have difficulty committing or letting your guard down in relationships due to a fear of betrayal or abandonment.
- People-pleasing tendencies, which might mean you go out of your way to win or keep someone’s favor, even if this compromises your own beliefs and needs.
- A savior complex, or a strong desire to “rescue” people you believe need your help, neglecting your own needs in the process.
All of these behaviors can make it more difficult to form healthy, satisfying relationships.
Participants in this category felt more.
- uncomfortable in social situations
These feelings can affect your self-esteem.
Knowing you couldn’t count on your caregiver for emotional support could also diminish your sense of self-esteem, according to Amanda E. White, licensed professional counselor and founder of the Therapy for Women Center.
Maybe your parent was irritable, easily aggravated, or verbally or emotionally abusive while drinking or in withdrawal. Experiencing these behaviors from a parent can also wear down your self-worth over time. Consequently, you might become more sensitive to criticism and rejection and have a harder time standing up for yourself.
White says that some people become harsh when drunk. They may blame others, including their kids, when not appropriate. These individuals can internalize what their parents say to them, and have a hard time differentiating criticism from who they are.
According to a small 2016 study involving 100 children ages 7 to 14, those who had fathers with alcohol dependence were more likely to show signs of impulsivity than those whose fathers did not have alcohol dependence.
“White believes that children learn to mirror their parents’ characteristics. Impulsivity is a risk factor for AUD. It can be a result of alcohol use.”
If your parent has AUD, you may be more likely to act without considering consequences. This impulsivity may stem from seeing a parent make decisions in a similar way.
Impulsive behavior can take many shapes. A few examples:
- You quit a job because of a minor annoyance.
- You break up with a partner after an argument.
- “You buy an expensive item because you want it in the moment, even though you can’t afford it.”
White says that impulsive behaviors can be risky and self-destructive. Examples might include:
- Driving too fast or driving carelessly.
- After drinking, driving.
- The person stole.
- experimenting with drugs
In some cases, these actions might lead to self-loathing and regret. You might also end up spending a lot of time addressing the consequences of these actions.
People with AUD can be very unpredictable, says White. They might show dramatic mood shifts and variations in behavior depending on their state of intoxication.
“If this was the case with your parent, you may have learned to pay attention to small, subtle signs. You might have found yourself on high alert, ready to respond and protect yourself, even if you weren’t sure how they’d act.”
Hypervigilance can affect your well-being over time. It can lead to something.
“Hypervigilance can leave you so sensitive to potential threats that you can be critical of someone even when they aren’t present.”
White says that many people with AUD are unable to have healthy conflict when under the influence of alcohol.
If a parent living with AUD had a shorter temper, you might be more conflict-averse. If you learned to associate disagreements with rage, fear, and feeling unsafe, it is understandable that you would try to avoid these situations as an adult.
This effort to avoid rocking the boat, so to speak, may have served you as a survival tactic growing up. But conflict avoidance can cause problems in your adult relationships. When you find it difficult (or impossible) to express disagreement or speak up when people disregard your boundaries, you’re more likely to end up:
- “Doing things you don’t want to do.”
- feeling bad towards others
- losing your sense of individuality and identity
A 2014 review found that children of parents who misuse alcohol often have trouble developing emotional regulation abilities.
According to the
Children largely rely on their parents for guidance learning how to identify, express, and regulate emotions. But a parent with AUD may not have been able to offer the support you needed here, perhaps in part because they experienced Emotional regulation. themselves.
When you don’t learn how to regulate your emotions, you might find it more difficult to understand what you’re feeling and why, not to mention maintain control over your responses and reactions. Difficulty expressing and regulating emotions can affect your overall well-being and contribute to challenges in your personal relationships.
Having a parent with AUD doesn’t automatically mean you’ll develop the condition yourself. That said, you are four times more likely to develop it than someone who doesn’t have a parent with AUD.
There are possible explanations for this fact.
- genetics, which can play a role in alcohol dependence and addiction
- abuse and other traumatic childhood experiences, including a chaotic or unpredictable home life, which may increase your vulnerability to AUD
- A pattern of using alcohol to numb, avoid, or suppress emotions is a pattern.
Alcohol can worsen other mental health symptoms
That’s what makes it so important to get professional support if you find yourself using alcohol to numb emotional distress or mental health symptoms.
If you learned to use alcohol as a means of dealing with trauma from your childhood, you can always learn new, more helpful mechanisms.
If you are considering seeing a mental health professional about your alcohol dependence, I would encourage you to get in touch with your insurance company to find out if they have a mental health provider in their network.
“You don’t have to do it alone when dealing with the effects of alcohol use by a parent.”
Experts highly recommend working with a therapist, particularly one who specializes in trauma or Substance use. disorders. According to Peifer, a mental health professional can help you connect deep-rooted fears and wounds stemming from childhood to behaviors, responses, and patterns showing up in your adult life.
She explains that in this process you will process traumatic experiences and develop tools to communicate with your needs.
Individual therapy is a great place to start, says Michelle Dubey, LCSW, chief clinical officer for Landmark Recovery. The type of therapy you pursue may depend on the issues you’re most concerned about. Your therapist can help you determine a therapy approach that best fits your unique needs and concerns.
Not sure where to start?
Dubey recommends cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) as well-researched, commonly used methods that can help address a range of mental health concerns and symptoms, including:
- There is a psychological condition called post traumatic stress disorder.
- Emotional regulation.
- Substance use.
If your parent with AUD is willing to attend therapy with you, family therapy can often help rebuild trust and pave the way toward healing.
Couples therapy can also have benefit, according to White, if you believe behaviors rooted in your childhood experiences have started to affect your romantic relationship.
The impact of a parent’s alcohol use doesn’t disappear when you hit adulthood, even if you’ve moved out and started life on your own. But no matter what lingering effects you experience, from hypervigilance to Emotional regulation. to difficulty in relationships, remember: of these are your fault.
“You learned to adapt in the only ways you knew how, even if you didn’t have a stable enviornment. You can learn to change behaviors that no longer help you, which can improve your overall well-being, quality of life, and relationships with others.”
A mental health professional can offer more support with identifying and exploring alternatives to your habits.
Rebecca Strong is a Boston-based writer who writes about health and fitness, food, lifestyle, and beauty. Her work has appeared in a number of publications.