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Adult Child of an Alcoholic: Learning to Cope and Recover

Updated on August 31, 2017


Ever wonder why you have trust issues with everyone? Why you are tormented by an underlying sadness that always seems to be with you? Do you have a problem with alcohol and wonder how that happened to you? Maybe you're an overachiever or have the need to be in control? I have one last question for you. Did you grow up with an alcoholic parent or caregiver? The answer, my friend, might be that you are the adult child of an alcoholic. We even have our own little club that is a part of Alcoholics Anonymous. It is called Adult Children of Alcoholics. Once you understand where these odd behaviors of yours came from, you can take steps to face and resolve these issues. And, not every answer is the right answer for everyone.

There are support groups, numerous books on the subject and professional counselors that can hold your hand as you sort through this jumble. You will eventually understand how these early life events have colored your life and led to some incredibly bad choices.


It's never too late to get help and it's not something you should delay



Early Childhood - Distorted reality

As a child, I felt strangely responsible for my younger brother. It also seemed to be my job to stop my Mom's tears and make her laugh. My Dad always worked but had an extraordinary number of "sick days". He was plagued by a "flu" that did not affect any other family member. It didn't seem odd to me because I thought all families were just like mine. I had no idea what a normal family would look like. I didn't realize I was the child of an alcoholic. When my Dad got really drunk and played the guitar, he would eventually laugh so hard that he was soon on the floor and the chair overturned. We all laughed. It seemed like some sort of comedy routine to a child. My Dad's unpredictable antics had a real impact on my teenage years. I never knew for sure if it was safe to bring a friend home. He might be fine or ready to start the "comedy routine". By this time, I was uncomfortable with the situation but I still didn't realize how sick our family had become. I learned later that my Mom was a text book "wife of an alcoholic". She never drank - EVER. But there was a common scene that played out in our home. My Dad drank, my Mom cried, and I tried to fix everyone. Our reality was seriously distorted.


I left home at 18 to marry the love of my life. I didn't look at his past, his family, what the future might hold but, aha, he had one important trait. He did not drink - EVER. So, this should be a marriage made in heaven, right? Well, no. There were bigger problems up ahead hiding just around the corner. I learned that my husband had serious emotional and mental problems. He had a violent temper that led to sudden outbursts of anger and he had "dark moods" (his words, not mine). But, hey, he didn't drink so things would get better, right? Ten years and three children later, a bitter divorce ensued. The last year of the marriage had become physically abusive, and I had grown weary of having my face rearranged. After the divorce, I worked like a maniac. I was a legal secretary at that time, and we always had more work than hours in the day. I tried not to think about the past - my childhood, my marriage.


Ten years after the first divorce, I remarried. My second husband seemed to be an "occasional social drinker". Not a problem, right? After several months into the marriage, I realized that he was, in fact, an alcoholic! My marriage quickly ended.

The year following the second divorce, I was shocked to learn that my teenage daughter had been drinking. Off we went to counselors and support groups. She didn't want to quit. She wanted to be one of the cool kids and solved the problem by running away. I brought her home again and again and again. Finally, she left with an older man and guess who continued to go to the support meetings? Me.


I learned at the age of 45, there were reasons I felt like I had to take care of everyone, make everyone laugh, put aside my own feelings and be the bigger person. I had unwittingly become an enabler. I also had a compulsive need to control situations, but I continually found myself in situations outside my control which led to inner conflict.

One of the counselors at the meeting for Adult Children of Alcoholics made it clear that I was not as powerful as I thought I wanted to be. She explained that I did not make the alcoholics in my life drink, I couldn't make them want to change and I couldn't make them stop. Wow! She pointed out that I had chosen husbands that were weak and needy because at a deep level, they reminded me of my Dad. I hadn't fixed him so I had failed. But deep inside was the need to "get it right". So, I tried to fix my husbands. The counselor also explained that many alcoholics are adult children of alcoholics. But for the grace of God that could have been me. The patient counselor taught me to use one little word when my buttons were pushed. The word "detach" got me back on track. Sometimes I had to say that word a hundred times out loud to get the point across to my brain. The counselor explained that even though the alcoholics that belonged to me were living elsewhere, I had to learn to detach. The old tapes that replayed in my head and the old emotions that often overwhelmed me had to go! Unless there was detachment, I was stuck! This part of the process didn't happen overnight. It was long and grueling but ever so slowly the tapes stopped and the emotions subsided. Now, you are ready to work on you and begin to really recover.

It is also important that you are in a group focused on moving forward. It is fine to air your "story" at the initial meeting or with a counselor. Living in the past is counter-productive and will keep you stuck. Don't do it! Reliving old hurts over and over is not beneficial. If you find yourself in a group that wants to grovel in past pain, find a new group. Remember, the goal is to focus on moving forward and improving your life.

If you are an alcoholic and the adult child of an alcoholic, your path will be different. You must first deal with your own addition. Unfortunately, your road to recovery will be slower and the path bumpier. But, in the end, it is well worth the effort.

The counselor recommended some great books that opened my eyes. One book that stands out in memory was written by Toby Rice Drews and titled "Getting Them Sober". It also helped to attend the Adult Children of Alcoholics meetings. Finally, I met some people that were a lot like me and really understood some of my quirky thoughts. The path to recovery is different for everyone, but I can tell you that being involved with people that understood the pain of being the adult child of an alcoholic helped a lot. The excellent books available opened my eyes and armed with this new information, I could make better choices.

There is not one right way to reach recovery. But, for me, this adult child of an alcoholic found recovery in a combination of counselor, group meetings for Adult Children of Alcoholics, and reading stacks of books. Am I totally recovered? No, there are still some scars. On the other hand, do you know anyone that had a perfect childhood, with or without alcohol? Probably not.

So get started. Find a counselor, go to a meeting and find some good books on the subject. Parts of the process involve anger and pain, but it must be done. Don't give up!

Are you facing problems with unemployment? Check out resources and information to help.

On October 2nd, 2009 we heard the report that unemployment had increased again and may get worse! This will lead to even more problems for families that also face the challenge of alcoholism.


Here are a few signs to look for:

Are you suffering from an addiction to food, work, alcohol or a dysfunctional relationship?

Do you have the need to succeed, no matter what; always the over achiever?

Do you always feel responsible for everyone and everything?

Do you have a problem with having fun; it just feels uncomfortable?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you need to seek help from the support of a group and/or counselor trained to deal with alcoholism and its many problems.



September 1, 2010 - As the economy continues to stutter and sputter, problems for the alcoholic family persist. The recent BP oil disaster created numerous problems and, yes, there was an increase in domestic violence and child abuse all related to alcohol and drugs. If you find yourself in this situation, seek help! If you are aware of family or friends that are dealing with an alcohol or drug problem, do your best to guide them to a source for help.

In July 2009, the economy continued to slide downward. For the past several months, we have been bombarded daily with grim economic news - job loss, foreclosures, stock market up and down, food prices soar - and the depressing list goes on. These are difficult and stressful times for everyone. This never-ending stress taps into your energy and saps your strength, it tests your faith and leaves you confused. Families without the added stressors of alcohol or drugs or other negative conditions will pull together, they'll make some sacrifices, gritch and groan during the process. In the end, these families will more than likely survive the current economy.

What about the alcoholic? More importantly, what about the children living with an alcoholic? Research has confirmed that alcoholics lack coping skills. We have seen the affects of alcohol on families, and we have witnessed the destructive dysfunction.

It has been reported by the National Runaway Switchboard that there has been an alarming increase in calls over the past year. The callers have been increasingly younger. These victims have reported abuse and neglect with alcohol a common denominator in many cases. With increased stress from the economy, there has been an increase in alcohol and drug abuse and we have seen more violent outbursts. The sad result has been child abuse and neglect. Unfortunately, the economy has also reduced funding for shelters and self-help organizations.

As we all know, eventually stocks will go up and more jobs will be available, and we can all go eat lobster and see a movie. The economy will bounce back and up! We need to ask ourselves a question: what about the children living in alcoholic homes during these tough times? Will their self-esteem ever be restored? What are the permanent lasting affects on these future leaders? We all need to be aware of the far reaching affects of a "bad" economy.


On Sunday, September 6th, 2009, the Houston Chronicle reported that local shelters have seen a decline in donations, major cutbacks in government funding and a sharp increase in calls for help. The domestic violence calls in some Houston areas increased by 71% between January 1st, 2009 and July 31st,2009 with alcohol and drugs a common denominator in a majority of the cases. Unfortunately until the economy improves substantially, this trend will continue.

Some links on this lens are affiliate links and may result in my receiving a commission if you purchase the product after clicking the link.



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    • Phillyfreeze profile image

      Ronald Tucker 

      5 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky

      Excellent lens and resources for anyone who have dealt with and are still dealing with alcoholism in the family. Having seen the devastation that this disease can have upon a family first hand...I can relate own a personal level when you want to "save" your love one!

      It was'nt until I was a young adult in my early twenties that I realized that 'alcoholism" is a disease and has to be treated as such.

    • MBurgess profile image

      Maria Burgess 

      5 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

      Thank you for sharing this personal side of you! I am 8 years in recovery and always looking at options for maintaining my spiritual foundation. One of my closest friends recommended the Adult Children of Alcoholics meetings and says they help her more than the other 12 step meetings do.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Thanks for speaking out i the open way that you have. It will give others hope. We have a website to help the partners' of problem drinkers. You can find it at


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