Adult Children of Alcoholics and Depression

Community Member

There has been a strong theme among our members here on My Depression Connection and that is many of us have grown up in a family where at least one parent suffered from alcoholism. Many of you will write in, as member Bill did recently, in order to talk about how a parent's drinking problem can adversely affect your life well into your adult years.

There is much evidence to say that our parents who drank in excess were most likely depressed as shown by such news reports as "Drinking to Boost Mood is Tied to Depression." Health Central writer Jerry Kennard also explores the link between depression and alcoholism in his post, "Drowning Your Sorrows: The Link Between Alcohol and Depression." This method for self medication for depression often backfired for our parents. It certainly did for my father as he died from his efforts. I write about my experience of losing my father to alcoholism at a very young age in my post, "The Legacy of Alcohol Addiction: The Children Left Behind."

For those of you who lived with an alcoholic parent during your childhood and teen years, your life may have been chaotic, emotionally turbulent, and sometimes frightening. But the feelings of anxiety, grief, and instability may not have ended when you left home. These feelings can last well into our adult years and manifest in many different ways. Many adult children of alcoholics suffer from depression and some suffer from addictions themselves. Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACoA's) may also have psychological and interpersonal issues due to their history of living with an alcoholic parent. Writers such as Janet Woititz, famous author of "Adult Children of Alcoholics" and Dr. Tian Dayton, a Huffington Post blogger, have both written about the characteristics and personality traits of ACoA's.

Some common characteristics of those of us who have an alcoholic parent may include:

  • We are chronic people pleasers who constantly seek out approval and affirmation from others.

  • We have problems regulating and achieving balance with our emotions. We are either overly emotional or we shut down our emotions because of the overload.

  • Our flight or flight instincts are amped up. We are hypervigilant about looking for threats or danger in our environment. We tend to over react to any sign of what we feel to be impending danger whether that threat is real or not.

  • We can easily become involved with people who we feel need "saving" as this mimics our relationship with our parent figure. We may choose to live with another alcoholic or someone with an addiction and replay that history out all over again.

  • We are terrified of abandonment. We will cling onto unstable relationships even when they are unhealthy for us because we can't stand the thought of being left alone.

  • We have great problems with trust. We either trust too much where it is not warranted or we trust too little. We lack the emotional history of understanding how trust works.

  • We may feel guilt and shame as though our parent's problem was our fault. We may have learned as children to keep secrets and not discuss what was really happening in our family.

  • We may be overly responsible in some circumstances but in other situations we may be deemed as very irresponsible.

  • We may be addicted to drama and excitement in our lives leading to high risk behaviors.

  • We may self medicate through food, sex, work, spending money, drinking alcohol or doing drugs as a way to deal with our emotional pain.

Does any of this sound familiar? Of course everybody is unique. Even siblings living within the same family circumstances will respond differently to having a parent who suffers from alcoholism. The key to moving on is not to blame but to be conscious of the role our parents had in shaping our current life choices. It is possible to break the family patterns by coping with our depression in healthy ways such as reaching out and gaining support through sites such as this one.

One of the ways I would personally like to help is to begin a series of life skills exercises for those of us who may share some of the characteristics and traits of Adult Children of Alcoholics. In the weeks to come I would like to work with you to increase your interpersonal skills to overcome some of the issues we may face as both depression sufferers and/or ACoA's. Stay tuned for more information on this.

In the meantime, if you have a story to share about your life as an adult child of an alcoholic please do share it with us. As we talk more as a group I am seeing this as a commonality among many of our members. Your story could help others to know that they are not alone and also show that one can survive this.

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