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The Thoughts and Feelings of an Adult Child of an Alcoholic: The Effects of Having an Alcoholic Parent

Updated on May 18, 2017
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Being an adult child of an alcoholic takes it's toll on emotional wellbeing. When a parent is an alcoholic the adult child can't just walk away. Any attempt to cut ties is connected to feelings you would expect to associate with abandoning a vulnerable person. The adult child tries to remain for the good of the parent but crumbles emotionally as the years go on.

I am an adult child of an alcoholic. I would like to try to explain the thoughts and feelings I experience and why, and how, they effect my emotional self.

The alcoholic parent is typically narcissistic due to the nature of addiction. My parental alcoholic has narcissistic tendancies without drink so sometimes it's difficult to distinguish between her natural self and when 'the drink is talking'. It is incredibly difficult to keep a level head when manipulations and lies are in play, whatever sparks such hurtful behaviour. I have learned over the years to not take anything my parental alcoholic says personally but that conscious effort has left me anxious with low self esteem, social anxiety and fear of being judged. The alcoholic parent will tell their adult child anything they think they wish to hear in order to continue drinking with minimal fuss directed at their addiction fuelled habits. Anything, whether it be hurtful or complimentary, it's ordinarily lies. I have grown up into adulthood not being able to take compliments or criticism in equal measures.

To allow undesirable and damaging behaviour to continue, especially without addresing issues, is emotionally very difficult for the adult child, if not impossible. Although I fully understand that I can't control or influence situations I cannot cope with just letting a crisis spiral. I do love my parental alcohol so to allow destruction, even facilitate it, without intervention is not something that comes naturally when loved ones are involved. I find that very difficult to do. When I sought support the overall suggestion was to just let things be as I can't influence or control. Up until now I have not been able to do that. Now tough, I see that whatever I do my parental alcoholic won't stop drinking and can't stop her associated behaviours.

The adult child is ordinarily in turmoil over the situation because good intended interventions are met with ''This is upsetting me. You're not helping me. You're too negative. You're driving me to drink''. The situation gets to the point where the adult child questions the motive for the interventions. I certainly have. I wonder if I'm acting on issues to appease my own guilt in not doing something, anything, or am I doing this for my parent's wellbeing and needs? I still haven't the answer. These days I try not to get involved and try, try and try not to feel any guilt.

It's all futile really. The adult child is damned if they do and damned if they don't. So where does that leave them in terms of their thoughts and feelings? I suffer in many ways emotionally and it's not all due to guilt.

Anger

When health complications inevitably develop for the parent it is so difficult for the adult child to understand why it is that the parent can't stop the self destruction. Rationally, I know that it is because of the physical, and often emotional, addiction to alcohol but my inability to make the parent, a loved one, see that they are causing pain, is incredibly difficult to deal with. Add to those feelings the real prospect of death and dying and it's now obvious to me why my frustrations bubble over into angry outbursts and poor coping strategies. To see the destruction of the family unit is unbearable, especially that with that destruction comes security, faith and every other pillar of what cements the upbringing, and person the adult child has become, deminish. In anger we question our whole being. I am lucky in I am married to a solid man and have my own separate family unit to base my 'whole being' around but had I been in this situation and still living in the parental home I expect my emotional self would be somewhat worse than it is today.


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Sadness

For all the reason above we can expect that sadness accompanies the feelings of anger. Sometimes because of anger, and sometimes inspite of it, but mostly because of every other thought and feeling the adult child experiences. I often go through thought processes surrounding 'what will I do when..?' and find that those thoughts can be accompanied by tears. There is such sadness in not being able to help the parental alcoholic deal with whatever it is that has them searching for drink and not being able to help them out of their destructive cycle. Being the adult child of an alcoholic parent is frought with never ending sadness especially when, as I did, you come to realise that alcohol was originally sought to deal with depression way back in a time when mental health issues was frowned upon.

Guilt

I've mentioned that the adult child often has periods of guilt. Although well aware that those feelings are irrational, they are very real. Not being able to help fuels them but the thoughts of needing it all to just end are secret and shameful. The endless searching for x, y, z and 'mortality rates' to find some sort of confirmation that it will end and soon fuels the guilt of acting on the desire to seek such information in the first place. Often the desire to run away from 'it', the alcoholic parent or cut ties is very real. Even if not acted upon, it's enough to want it to feel guilty about it. I know I shouldn't feel guilty about anything that I have or have not done in this but it takes such mindful thought processes to be able to give myself a chance in this. Ironiclly I even feel guilty about that - how come I have a strength and my parental alcoholic just doesn't?

Alcoholism is a family disease so much so that my sister and I have dabbled in the blame fuelled point scoring game. It's such a ridiculous thing to do to one another but now we're solid and together I see, and I think she does too, that we were acting because of anger, sadness and guilt towards each other as a 'safe' outlet because we both undertood it.

It's painful to helplessly watch a loved one destroy their lives and destroy all that a family unit is supposed to be. Frustrations and resentments are born out of believing promises and reeling from lies while trying to control uncontrollable situations. But the crux of the pain is due to the adult child's own thoughts and feelings surrounding already mourning the loss of the loved one, the respected mother or father and the caring, sharing person who brought us into the world. The alcoholic parent that is left brings nothing but torment and they don't even see it.

The irony is that the parent is content in their drinking while family members are constantly hurting - hurting themselves and hurting others around them in a bid to just cope.

The Thoughts and Feelings Of An Orphaned Adult Child Of An Alcoholic

The alcoholic parent in this article was my Mum. She died of a ruptured duodenal ulcer and bled out. Every indication possible points towards my Mum choosing to ignore every offer of help in the hope that her continued destruction to her body would take her. My Mum was depressed and stuck in a life of misery. It is only now that I fully understand the pain the alcoholic feels. It is only now where I understand that non of the drinking was about me, my anger, my hurt, my sadness or my guilt. No, it was about a very ill, weak lady who didn't have the strength to get help because help meant facing up to a life that she didn't want and couldn't deal with .

When I wrote this article I was extremely worried about my Mum. I knew the end was near and I'll be honest, I wished for the end to come because the emotions I felt about it all were all consuming. Now Mum has died I would have her back, drinking and all because the pain of missing her - the lady she essentially was - is worse than living the nightmare of her drinking. The irony is I had already lost that lady as the alcohol took her away.

I'm six months on from her death now and I just feel like 'what a shame' and it sounds like such a mediocre way to describe such awful feelings but there's an immense feeling of 'why?' wrapped up in it and I don't think I'll ever let that go.

From one adult child of an alcoholic to another I would like to remind you that you're your own person. We can only ever be responsible for ourselves and we owe it to ourselves to find the strength to deal with things in order to build the best life we can.

That is how I get through it - I deal with it. My Mum hid from everything from opening her letters to drinking to unconsciousness. It's in the dealing, overcoming and experiencing that we get the strength we need to live our lives, I feel. I feel melancholy about that last few years and although it's a sadness it's a meek feeling to have in comparison with such strong hurtful emotions. I might have just survived you know.


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    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 9 months ago from Philippines

      This is a brave article to write, and I truly appreciate that you did this. You will help so many people because you took the time to write this. I was totally engrossed with your story from start to finish. And although my father was not alcoholic, I have known some difficulties and some of the emotions you went through because of them. Thank you so very much for sharing your story

    • louiseelcross profile image

      Louise Elcross 9 months ago from UK

      Thank you for this hub. Like you I am the child of alcoholic parents and feel your pain. I lost my mum when I was aged eleven to alcoholism. My adult daughter is now an alcoholic and the pain never ends. I write about my experiences with her and my mum and find writing helps to deal with the negative emotions and fear that I feel. I understand the feeling of guilt because I have now boundaries in place to protect myself from the negativity that alcoholism brings and often feel guilty for doing so. Thank you for sharing your story.

    • mchllhwgt profile image
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      Michelle How 9 months ago

      My feelings go on and on. I try to deal with them but they do get on top of me. I am lucky in that I am strong. I hope to reach out to thoese who aren't as strong. Thank you both for commenting. Once pen hit the paper this hub just flowed and itv was good to get my thoughts down.

    • mchllhwgt profile image
      Author

      Michelle How 10 days ago

      I have updated the article. My Mum died. I hope it can help someone at some point.

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