The "average alcoholic" is not a skid-row
"bum"—he or she is a man or woman with a family, job and
responsibilities. 50-60% of those people have, or had, at least
one alcoholic parent. Many of us are affected by alcoholism, but people
with alcoholic parents may have an even greater need for understanding
the effects of alcohol dependence. Understanding how this disease has
affected their upbringing can help many adult children of alcoholics
gain control over their own lives.
The alcoholic home is often chaotic, disruptive, and lacking in
consistency. Children in alcoholic homes may feel the lack of an
"anchor"—a consistent base of support.
Children from an alcoholic family may also learn not to trust, since
confidence, reliance, and faith are often lacking in alcoholic homes.
They may be unable to depend on their parents and rarely bring friends
home, never trusting the situation they will find.
Children of alcoholics also learn a well-developed denial system
about what is happening in the home. They try to bring stability to the
home but may deny their own anxieties and fears, while attempting to act
in a "normal" manner.
In the alcoholic home, children tend to take on various roles --
usually as a "defense" mechanism against the disease that is
threatening their family. One role is the responsible child who
takes care of other members of the family while growing up. As an adult,
he or she continues to assume leadership roles and often pursues a very
Another is the role of the adjuster. He or she follows
directions, adjusts to circumstances, copes more easily. As adults,
adjusters find it easier to shrug off things and withdraw. They become
adept at being flexible and spontaneous and may lack a sense of
direction and responsibility. They may find mates who are in a constant
uproar, since this state of constant agitation perpetuates their
A third common pattern of a child with a chaotic home life is that of
the placater, the family comforter. This child tries to make
others feel better as if he is responsible for the pain the family is
experiencing. In adult life, this person often tries to "take
care" of others, either personally or professionally. In many
cases, the adult child of an alcoholic exhibits more than one of these
Self-help groups exist that provide opportunities for adults to
understand alcoholism and how it has affected their lives, and to
discover that they are not alone. For additional information and
referrals, contact Adult Children of Alcoholics (213) 534-1815,
P.O. Box 3216, Torrance, CA 90505.