How Parental Addiction Affects Children
Many kids grow up with alcoholic or drug addicted parents. Whether the substance abuse is minimal or completely out of control, it has a profound effect on children. Studies have shown that drinking and drugging affects everyone in a substance abuser’s life. Unfortunately, addiction affects children more than anyone else, and the effects can last for a lifetime.
Growing Up With Parental Substance Abuse
In 1983, Dr. Janet G. Woititz wrote a best-seller called “Adult Children of Alcoholics.” It describes how addiction affects children. She said kids who grow up in substance-abusing households have deep-seated emotional and psychological wounds that cause them to develop a particular set of character traits. Dr. Woititz’s findings have since been supported by research.
Effects of Parental Alcoholism And Drug Addiction On Kids
The most shocking finding Dr. Woititz brought forth was that addiction affects children in the same way that physical and sexual abuse affects them. In both cases, kids develop a similar set of personality traits. These traits also appear in kids who had a chronically ill parent or had parents who were overly strict about religion. The characteristics may also appear in kids who were adopted, raised in foster homes, or had parents who were compulsive gamblers or food addicts.
Characteristics Of Adult Children Of Alcoholics (ACOAs)
The behavioral, psychological and emotional characteristics that Dr. Woititz identified describe very well how addiction affects children. Dr. Woititz added that these traits can affect ACOAs for the rest of their lives. Here are the most common personality traits shared by ACOAs and others who grew up in chaotic and unstable environments:
Problems with intimacy. ACOAs usually have trust issues and low self esteem. These characteristics may prevent them from trusting and getting too close to others.
Trust issues. Because they grew up with lies, secrets, deceit, and denial, ACOAs find it hard to trust others. In a home where broken promises were normal, kids learn early that trusting someone else is a surefire way to be disappointed.
Not knowing what’s normal. With substance-abusing parents, kids grow up with no idea of what’s normal. As a result, ACOAs have to guess at normalcy and pretend to know, even when they don’t. They may be constantly looking to others to define normalcy for them and often have trouble choosing healthy role models.
Constant negative self-talk. Many ACOAs suffer from low self esteem and feel like failures even when they’re successful and accomplished. They may drive themselves to excel, but because they believe they’re not good enough, no amount of achievement makes them feel better.
Inability to have fun. Letting go and having a good time is difficult for ACOAs. This might be due to having had so many special events, vacations, birthdays, and holidays sabotaged by substance-abusing parents.
Taking things too seriously. ACOAs tend to take everything too seriously, especially themselves. They may criticize themselves constantly, and all the negative self-talk leaves them feeling anxious and depressed. They can become very upset when they think they’ve made a mistake.
Constant fear of abandonment. ACOAs are always afraid of being abandoned in their relationships. They can be clingy, and they require constant reassurance from others. Many ACOAs find it hard to let go of others, even when they are being treated badly.
Overly responsible. ACOAs can be hyper-responsible perfectionists. They are often overachievers and workaholics who think they must excel in everything. ACOAs can also go in the opposite direction and become very irresponsible.
Fear of anger. ACOAs who were raised by mean, abusive, or violent substance-abusing parents can be very uncomfortable with any expression of anger, even if it’s not directed at them. They usually go out of their way to avoid conflicts and confrontations. They may fear their own anger as well and go to great lengths to avoid or deny it.
Addicted to approval. ACOAs rely on the approval of others because they are so hard on themselves. They can be people-pleasers who take any kind of criticism very badly.
Feeling different from others. Children who grow up with substance-abusing parents typically feel that they are different than and not as good as others. They have trouble making and keeping friends and may prefer to be alone.
In families where one or both parents are substance abusers, the environment is often defined by drama, chaos, instability, arguments, and uncertainty. Addiction affects children by making them feel defensive. They are always scanning the environment for danger and usually feeling insecure. Parents sometimes blame kids for their own addictions, so kids feel responsible for fixing the problem, even though they can’t. At the same time, they usually feel angry at their parents for not dealing with their addictions.