Dear Barb – Adult Children of Alcoholics

Dear Barb:

My parents drank heavily during my growing up years. In fact, I believe they are alcoholics. I didn’t’ realize the impact this had on my life until I moved away from home to attend university. When I go out with my friends I’m reluctant to have more than one or two drinks while everyone else is drinking and having a good time. Also, when my friends drink a lot I find it difficult to be around them. I have heard about support groups for Adult Children of Alcoholics, but I’m wondering what these groups have to offer a person like me. Would they really be helpful for me? Perhaps it’s a good thing that I feel uncomfortable drinking more than a couple of drinks, as I have heard that if your parents are alcoholic you could be predisposed to alcoholism as well. I would appreciate any information you could offer.

Bruce in Newfoundland

Hi Bruce. Your question indicates that you are a fairly insightful man, which, by the way, is a characteristic of Adult Children of Alcoholics. You are right, growing up in an alcoholic home puts you at increased risk of developing not only an alcohol problem, but a variety of other conditions, such as depression, low self-esteem, as well as other anti-social behaviors. On the other hand, it’s not all doom and gloom, as two thirds of individuals who grow up in alcoholic homes do not become alcoholics. Therefore Bruce the odds are in your favour. An important factor in whether you will become alcoholic is if you had a mentor while growing up. Having someone in your life who you look up to as a role model provides you with the opportunity to see that there are ways to live your life that don’t include alcoholism.

If you are comfortable having only a couple of drinks, then don’t feel you have to drink more just because your friends do. However if you want to drink more, but are afraid of being like your parents, then perhaps your parent’s alcoholism is still controlling your life. If this is your situation it may be beneficial for you to seek help to resolve this anxiety within yourself.

Adult Children of Alcoholics have many common characteristics that have developed as a result of living in an alcoholic home. These are unhealthy coping mechanisms that have become a part of how they function. In an unhealthy environment, these mechanisms can lead to difficulties. Support groups or individual counselling can help uncover your true self: the person you were meant to be had you not been raised in a dysfunctional home.

Through this recovery process individuals learn to see and accept their family of origin, as they are, warts and all. Through acceptance, individuals in recovery learn to forgive and have compassion, not only for their parents, but also for themselves. Right now, Bruce, your reactions to your external environment are most likely being filtered through the effects of growing up in a dysfunctional alcoholic home. Therefore I believe counselling would be beneficial in providing you with more effective ways of functioning as a complete person.

Thank you again for writing. I feel that with a strong commitment, you will be able to overcome the affects of your early life and experience a healthier future.

E-mail your questions to Some submissions may be edited for length or to protect confidentiality: your real name and location will never be printed. This column is for entertainment only. The author is not a professional counsellor and this column is not intended to take the place of professional advice.

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