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Breaking the Cycle: Adult Children of Alcoholics

09/28/2023

Adult children of alcoholics feel the effects of the abuse and neglect they experienced during their childhood years into adulthood. A child that grows up in an alcoholic home can experience trauma that causes them to adopt coping mechanisms such as people-pleasing, controlling behavior, or internalizing blame for others’ poor behavior. Many have lingering fears, anxiety, and other emotional problems that interfere with their ability to live a balanced life or have healthy relationships.

The good news is it’s possible for adults to recover by learning how to set boundaries and use effective coping strategies. Keep reading to learn more about how the right support can help ACoAs overcome the difficulties of growing up in a dysfunctional family.

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Characteristics and Effects of ACoA Upbringing

Growing up with an alcoholic caregiver can leave lasting psychological effects on a child that persist into adulthood. Some of the emotional consequences of living in such a chaotic, unstable environment are overwhelming feelings of fear, guilt, and shame. Some other common adult children of alcoholics traits include:

  • Fear of abandonment
  • A victim mentality
  • Isolation
  • A need for approval from others
  • Low self-esteem
  • Fear of authority
  • Difficulty setting boundaries
  • Problems building healthy relationships
  • Substance use disorders

Since ACoAs didn’t have a supportive adult in their life, they don’t get their emotional needs met. Many of these children tend to feel responsible for the behavior of their parental figures and the subsequent dysfunctional environment they live in.

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Recognizing the Legacy of Alcoholism in Adulthood

If the trauma experienced in childhood is left unaddressed, the individual can develop adult child syndrome, where they have an inability to make decisions and navigate normal adult relationships. Many ACoAs have an insecure attachment style defined by a lack of security and trust in others.

It’s common for them to develop emotional triggers and high reactivity to daily life. Awareness of the events that cause severe physical and mental reactions is the best way to deal with triggers. A professional can provide the understanding and support needed to recognize the causes behind these reactions and come up with a strategy to manage them.

When a traumatized adult doesn’t get the help necessary to recover from the past, they can pass along their trauma-informed responses and emotional issues to future generations. The intergenerational transmission of trauma may continue from parent to child until someone breaks the cycle by healing the underlying cause of the behavior.

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Healing From ACoA Upbringing

The first step to healing is to acknowledge the impact that childhood experiences have on an adult. Since many of the learned behaviors start at such an early age and become a part of the child’s identity, it’s important to seek professional therapy and support groups for recovery.

Part of the healing journey is learning self-compassion and doing inner child work. ACoAs must accept they’re not to blame for the behavior of their parent or caregiver. By acknowledging the pain of the child they once were, they can begin to heal old wounds and develop healthy emotional skills moving forward. Programs, such as Adult Children of Alcoholics, can also help ACoAs identify their trauma and grieve their past experiences in a healthy way.

Rebuilding Healthy Relationships

Children with alcoholic parents often develop patterns of codependency later in life. They have good intentions to help their loved ones but end up neglecting their own wellbeing while enabling the addict. Setting boundaries is essential for good relationships. ACoAs must learn to assert their limits and stick to them. Having others respect their boundaries is necessary to establish trust and vulnerability in relationships. Without it, the relationship is too one-sided.

Addressing Addiction and Codependency

It’s possible for adults to overcome codependency and support their loved ones suffering from addiction in a healthy way. They need to learn how to recognize addictive behaviors and have a strategy for handling them without sacrificing their own wellbeing. It’s natural for recovering addicts to experience triggers and urges, but professional support can help minimize the risk of a relapse.

Communication and Assertiveness

One of the ongoing problems many ACoAs experience is a lack of assertiveness in communicating their own needs and emotions. As children, they were never given the space to express themselves. Instead, the focus was on the adult addict’s needs.

Healing past wounds is crucial to overcoming challenges, such as people-pleasing and repairing relationships. As an adult, the traumatized individual must learn it’s not selfish to take care of themselves. They need to understand what they truly want and start speaking up about their needs and opinions, while setting boundaries to prevent others from disregarding them.

Embracing Self-Discovery and Identity

The ACoA can begin to embark on a journey of self-discovery and personal growth by taking an active approach. Instead of passively allowing others to dictate their lives, they need to start exploring their own interests, what they believe in, what their core values are, and what they feel passionate about. As the individual starts to build a sense of self-worth, they become more resilient to external forces.

Breaking the Cycle of Trauma

ACoAs can break the cycle of trauma for future generations by working on their own recovery and committing to parenting their children with mindfulness and compassion. Healing from trauma takes time, effort, and kindness, but it’s possible. It’s important to advocate for mental health and addiction resources in communities, so ACoAs and anyone suffering from a dysfunctional upbringing can access help.

Coping With Triggers and Flashbacks

Navigating through trauma is ideally done with the support of a professional who can assist the individual with processing their trauma. The recovery journey may cause flashbacks, dissociation, and other uncomfortable symptoms. An expert can help the individual to identify triggers and adapt coping strategies like grounding techniques to support emotional regulation. Simple activities, such as deep breathing exercises, positive self-talk, and journaling about complex or difficult emotions, can make a big difference.

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Learn More About Alcoholism & Alcohol Rehab at Beachway Therapy Center

ACoAs can experience a wide range of emotional, psychological, and behavioral traits that make it difficult to live a rich and satisfying life. However, anyone can begin the healing process and learn how to thrive beyond the legacy of alcoholism.

Beachway Therapy Center offers programs that provide the resources and support individuals need to experience personal growth and resilience through trauma treatment, detox, inpatient and outpatient services, and more. Beachway provides holistic therapy to treat individuals with co-occurring mental health disorders to establish a better life.