Twenty-eight million children in the U.S. today have alcoholic parents. One in eight Americans is an adult child of an alcoholic (ACoA). That means you’re likely to know quite a few of them…but it’s just as likely you don’t know this about them. Why? The experience of growing up with an addicted parent has silenced them.
While their parent may have gotten treatment, it is likely these victims of addiction did not. As a society, our focus is on getting help for those struggling with addiction. We acknowledge that their addiction affects those around them, but we don’t always make sure those caught in the wake get rescued. However, this is often because children of alcoholics have learned to keep quiet about their struggles.
They are drowning, but don’t cry out for a life preserver. Here’s why…
Clean Bill of Health?
Daniel trusted no one. Part of him ached for close friends and a romantic relationship, but a bigger part of him shouted to keep them all at arm’s length – it’s not safe! He tried to reach out in the past and found it dangerous to let others get to know him. The few who had started to get close discovered his dad was an alcoholic. They mentioned that some of his emotional struggles might be related to growing up with an addicted parent. “Struggles?” thought Daniel. What were they talking about? He was fine. His dad had a problem, not him.
Daniel felt different throughout his childhood. He just wanted to be normal now. He didn’t want to be told there was something wrong with him – that he was sick, too.
Robin’s father had been sober for 11 years. He was a totally different person now than he was while she was growing up. She was happy for him – and for her entire family – but his current sobriety didn’t fully heal the past. No matter how much he was there for the grandkids, he still hadn’t been there for her as a child. She felt like she needed to work through some of the feelings that plagued her after all these years.
But why dredge up the past? Robin would only hurt her family. Better to keep quiet and try to move on.
Jim’s standard M.O. was 100 percent self-reliance 100 percent of the time. He was known as independent and resourceful. While he was generally respected for these qualities, they weren’t completely healthy. At the age of ten, Jim had learned not to rely on other people. His mom, passed out on the couch at home, wasn’t there to pick him after school. She had done similar things in the past, but this became a defining moment for Jim. He decided right then and there he could no longer expect anything from anyone.
Jim wouldn’t ask for help from anybody. If he couldn’t go to his own mother for support, surely asking anyone else for help would lead to nowhere but disappointment.
Shattering the Silence
Do any of these scenarios sound familiar? If you or someone you know is an adult child of an alcoholic, it is important to be aware of these potential barriers. Built over years of suffering in a household run by addiction, they can be difficult to overcome. Remain sensitive to these issues as you interact with ACoA’s. And remember: The struggles might be common, but they’re also conquerable.
Learn more about the effects of alcohol abuse.
Image Source: iStock