Substance Use

Adult Children of Alcoholics: Warning Signs & Traits

sad young boy with alcoholic father

Adult Children of Alcoholics: Growing Up in an Alcoholic Home

Adult children of alcoholics can develop compulsive personalities that are common among those who grew up in an alcoholic household. These include feelings of guilt and shame, low self-esteem, lack of trust and feelings of helplessness and powerlessness.

Alcoholism can have far-reaching effects on children who live with an alcoholic parent. Children of parents with substance use disorders may experience what is called the laundry list of emotions such as guilt, low self-esteem and mistrust.

They tend to feel powerless, helpless and unable to control their destiny, and may also become anxious or fearful in new situations and lack the confidence to take risks or try new things.

At Zinnia Healing, we understand that alcohol addiction and drug abuse can be arduous. That’s why we offer round-the-clock detox services and ongoing outpatient addiction treatment. Help is just one call away at (855) 430-9439.

Determining if a Parent is an Alcoholic

This test created by the National Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare can help determine if a parent is an alcoholic. It asks a range of questions centering on how a parent’s drinking has affected the child and family dynamics.

What Are the Personality Characteristics of Children of Alcoholics?

According to a study published by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), for alcoholic families, the condition has become an integral part of their system, and many daily activities are structured around it.

These dysfunctional homes, therefore, operate on a different set of behavioral principles than those that lack such issues.

What Are the Most Common Characteristics of the Child of an Alcoholic?

Children of parents with an alcohol use disorder can possess a wide range of personality characteristics, depending on the level of family dysfunction.

According to the UNLV report, some common personality types that become coping mechanisms are:

1. The Family Hero

These well-meaning children put forth significant effort to make sure that the family appears “ordinary” in the eyes of strangers. They are routinely seen as successful, dependable and efficient by those outside their inner circle.

However, this approval-seeking behavior is often accomplished at a significant personal cost: a denial of genuine emotions and an internal fear that they may be unworthy.

2. The People Pleaser

These compliant youngsters learn quickly to manage uncomfortable situations within the family. They have an almost supernatural capacity to provide emotional support to others, yet it comes at the cost of their feelings being disregarded.

This kind of child is remarkably tolerant towards unacceptable behavior and often opts for caregiver professions in which they can attend to the needs of others.

3. The Scapegoat

These individuals tend to be labeled as the “family problem” and are more likely than not to engage in various forms of self-destructive behavior, such as substance use or abuse, which serve as an outlet for their infuriated emotions towards their family.

Intuitively understanding that by misbehaving, they can dodge dealing with a drinking issue among the family members, scapegoats generally fail to recognize any sentiment apart from anger.

4. The Lost Child

Growing up in an atmosphere where predictability and safety are never guaranteed, these children often become accustomed to going along with whatever they’re told without pause or resistance.

Consequently, a sense of aimlessness can develop due to the inability to plan for their future or make decisions independently. As such, they may feel lost within life’s currents and unable to constrain themselves from its direction.

5. The Mascot

Young people with this personality type are often excellent at diverting attention away from negative emotions, as they have an innate knack for humor. Unfortunately, their ability to concentrate and make critical decisions is limited due to their low threshold for distress.

At Zinnia Healing, our staff of experienced professionals is dedicated to helping those dealing with substance abuse find hope and healing. We provide integrated inpatient treatment and innovative outpatient programs designed for long-term recovery. Call our alcohol and drug addiction helpline today at (855) 430-9439 for assistance 24/7.

How Does Hypervigilance Develop in a Child of an Alcoholic?

According to a studying published in the National Library of Medicine, a child growing with traumatic stress can develop hypervigilance. This condition, characterized by increased fear and anxiety, can cause a child to be constantly wary and alert of their environment.

The development of hypervigilance is caused by instability, leading the child to feel unsafe and untrusting.

As crisis episodes that cause traumatic stress worsen, the sense of insecurity becomes more pervasive, making it harder for the child to move beyond this heightened state of vigilance.

Hypervigilance makes it difficult for people to enjoy living in their environment as they attempt to constantly avoid threats or perceived danger, and this behavior may carry over into adulthood if not successfully treated in early childhood.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), for some children, the love and support of family members are not enough to overcome child traumatic stress.

This makes using the services of mental health specialists educated in evidence-based trauma essential, so that the child can be provided with treatments and the necessary guidance for recovery.

What is “Splitting” in Children of Alcoholics?

According to a study published in the National Library of Medicine, splitting is a psychological defense mechanism where people perceive any other person as exclusively positive or negative.

This mental block prevents them from seeing the nuances of human relationships, hindering meaningful connections with others.

It can cause children of alcoholic parents to alternate between idealizing and rejecting the same person, creating an internal struggle of wanting closeness while avoiding pain.

What is the Difference Between a Child of an Alcoholic and a Codependent?

Traits of a child of an alcoholic may include fear, anxiety, shyness, and insecurity. They may also struggle with guilt, lack of self-worth, and difficulty trusting others.

What is Codependency?

According to a study published in the National Library of Medicine, codependency is sometimes called “relationship addiction.” It involves an individual’s struggle with cultivating a healthy and balanced relationship.

Over the years, this concept has been extended to include any emotionally unbalanced or destructive relationships, including those one-sided or abusive. Codependence is characterized by being overly reliant on a partner for emotional gratification and neglecting one’s own needs.

How Does Codependency Manifest in Children of Alcoholics?

A child of an alcoholic parent may pair off with someone who demonstrates the same destructive behaviors they grew up with.

This can lead to a codependent relationship, as the individual cannot establish healthy boundaries and relies on their partner for emotional security. In addition, codependency in children of alcoholics may manifest through an inability to trust others or build healthy relationships.

The individual has difficulty setting personal boundaries and expressing their needs, which can lead to problems in intimate relationships.

Seek Help for Alcoholism Early

The unique psychological background of children affected by alcoholism can cause numerous difficulties.

However, parents must understand that seeking help early on can make a huge difference in ensuring healthier trajectories in their child’s life. 

Family therapy is a great way for families affected by alcohol abuse to come together in a safe and therapeutic environment and develop healthy communication patterns.  

At Zinnia Healing, we create a supportive environment tailored to each individual’s unique needs. We have assembled a team of experienced professionals whose end goal is to help each person develop lasting skills they can use to remain sober and pursue a fulfilling life. If you or someone you love is struggling with alcoholism, don’t hesitate. Call our alcohol abuse hotline 24/7 at (855) 430-9439 for immediate assistance.

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