alcoholic parent

Living with an Alcoholic Parent

We were a very stereotypical early 1970’s family. My dad had a good job and was working hard towards success, and my mom was an active, quite beautiful, and thriving stay-at-home mom. We were truly happy during my early childhood. Yet lurking beneath the surface were the past horrors and pain my mother experienced in her own childhood. They would soon manifest into her becoming an alcoholic parent like her own. With grit and determination, she had pushed herself into a higher station in life and out of the rubble of her origins, but success allowed reflection, and reflection introduced her enemy: bourbon.

I was around 12 years old the first time I knew something was seriously wrong. My mother was an avid lover of music, but she had taken to locking herself in our study for hours with the lights out and music blaring. No matter how much I knocked, how many times I asked her what was wrong, she would not come out. I would sit with my back to the locked door and listen to Glen Campbell, CCR, Three Dog Night, and all the great artists of the era, and wonder what in the world was going on. When I questioned it, I was rebuked, and year after year, it worsened.

By the time I was in my mid-20’s, it had gone from functioning alcoholism to nightmare alcoholism. She was merely a shell of the woman I loved so dearly. Divorced, lost, and completely engulfed in a sea of bourbon and depression. My dad had set her up in a nice place to live and she had financial security, but the mess was left to my brother and me to tend to. The details are too much for here, but those were the worst years of my life. We buried her at the young age of 60. She briefly met two of the five grandchildren that would come. It’s one of my greatest sorrows that she never experienced my daughters.

Being the child of an alcoholic parent is life filled with uncertainty, confusion, and great mental challenge. [Tweet This].  It’s a form of child abuse that is highly overlooked in our culture saturated to the max in booze. Here is a look at the typical conditions inside an alcoholic family home.

Common Conditions in the Home

Each case is unique and some homes function better than others, but in any given place where a truly alcoholic parent is present, you’ll find instability, disorganization, chaos at times, lack of discipline, emotional abuse, and possible physical abuse. There are loud arguments, destructive arguments, and frightening arguments. I would go to bed many nights as a child hearing things that no child should ever hear. The home will ebb and flow completely dependent on the mood of the addict. Tension and fear always present.

Common Symptoms in the Child

The realest way to describe what it’s like being a child in that situation? Horrifying. No matter how mature a child may be for their age, there is no way they have yet developed the mental capabilities and strength to process the madness. In my case, I use that experience towards the good, such as writing from my deep experience for this site. Other children don’t fare so well and are very likely to fall into addiction and trouble themselves. Tragedy breeds tragedy. The child faces loneliness, a sense of repeated abandonment, shame, emptiness, anxiety, depression, and anti-social behavior.

What is the Outcome for the Family?

There isn’t a happy ending to this story for the vast majority of cases. My family was destroyed and most end that way. The journey getting to the final blow is agonizing. Families do not want destruction, so they will naturally fight the process by attempting to cover it all up. For the child, this piles on even more trauma because it’s expected of them not to reveal the true depth of the problem. My close friends were my saving grace. They saw it in glimpses, but they knew it was there. They never judged me for it. In many ways, they became my family in my teen years and my place of happy refuge. I could spend time with their families and understand that not everyone lived that way. It gave me hope for the future. My prayer for an alcoholic parent reading this? Seek professional help right away and save your children from misery.

Sound Off

How were you impacted by an alcoholic parent?

  • Chris W

    AA has done wonders for the Alcoholic; please remind people there is Al-Anon for the FAMILY members who have been affected by the disease of the alcoholic. It saved my life as sure as AA saved the alcoholic spouse in my life.

    • BJ_Foster

      Great point Chris! Glad to hear your family is in a better place.

  • Daniel H

    AA saved my life! I have been in the program and sober for years now. My relationship w my children is the greatest thing in my entire life and I am just so thankful God and AA saved me. It’s such a wonderful thing and has saved millions of lives. I will say it takes time sometimes to stick but don’t give up until the miracle happens. Don’t give up on those you love either. Seek help in Al Anon as I have had to w someone I care about in our lives. It is a great program and full of miracles everyday!
    Thank you for posting this article!!!!!

    • Gary Abernathy

      How I wish for a million success stories like yours, Daniel. God Bless. I wrote this article having been the child.

  • David Lisk

    I was that same little boy. The only difference being both of my parents were serious alcoholics. My Dad was “functioning” but my mother was a stay at home homemaker with very few friends and family to occupy her time. I was awakened many nights by screaming and arguing followed by physical beatings of each other. I slept in the car many nights and got myself ready for school the next morning. If it were not for friends whose parents knew what was going on, things could have been much worse. It scarred me for years and I would never, ever wish that existence on my worst enemy. I loved my parents and I know they loved me and my older sister. Unfortunately the whole situation was ended on one terrible event. My parents died in a house fire. My mother was 62 and my dad was 57. I was 20 yrs old at the time and serving in the Air Force. If not for amazing supervisors and friends in the service, my life could have taken a terrible turn at that point.
    Thirty six years later my sister and I have always been very careful about keeping any alcohol in our homes. I will never subject my family to what I went through.
    Thank you for sharing this and highlighting the emotional and physical toll on the family that alcoholism causes.

    • Gary Abernathy

      Thank you very much for sharing your story, David. I wrote this article specifically to put a light on addiction where not many shine it. My prayer is that an addict might have their eyes opened by seeing the real effects on those they love, but if nothing else, to show solidarity with those just like you. God bless.

  • Brian J

    Thank you for bring this subject up. I happen to be the spouse of an alcoholic. Our children have seem more unacceptable behavior than I wanted them to, but I have tried to protect them as much as I can. Our oldest child is starting to understand the world, so I decided it was time to open a dialogue with him and my wife about mommy’s “disease”. (Disease is the language of AA and Al Anon, but I am more comfortable with the “allergy” concept discussed in the book Alcoholics Anonymous – in short, alcoholics can’t drink alcohol because they have a severe physical and mental reaction to it when they do.) My wife continues to work her program and I am working mine in Al Anon. The 12 Steps are a spiritual journey and I am still working through mine. For those who are specifically looking for a fellowship based on being the Adult Child of an Alcoholic (ACA), you can look for meetings and look at their literature here http://www.adultchildren.org/. Alcoholism, drugs, and all forms of addiction affect those that care about the addict whether they are family or friends – – – dealing with someone else’s insanity caused by addiction, as the author did above, causes you to become insane. It definitely did for me.

    Lastly, there are many paths to and through recovery. Everyone has to figure it out for themselves. If AA or another program hasn’t worked for you before, try again. There is always hope as long as you are alive. This is an interesting podcast dedicated to new people trying to start a recovery program – http://recoveredcast.blogspot.com/. This is one about Al Anon related issues – http://therecoveryshow.com/. Here is a podcast about new trends in addiction treatment that might just blow your mind – http://www.radiolab.org/story/addiction/. Remember you are not alone. According to some 10 year old surveys, between 1/3 to 2/3 of all American families believe that their family has been effected by alcohol or drug use. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.3109/10884602.2011.625159

    • BJ_Foster

      Thank you for sharing your story Brian and your insights from your personal experience. I’m glad you and your wife are proactive about getting treatment. Prayed for your family this afternoon and continued healing for your wife’s “allergy”.

  • Ashrrs

    The mother of my stepchildren were raised by an alcoholic. She developed borderline personality disorder and serious narcissism- and never emotionally developed past high school. So even if a child doesn’t develop alcoholism, the trauma of the neglect from the alcoholic parent can make their life dangerously dependent or codependent- with all the rage and chaos of their alcoholic parent! Her daughters have had to fight for independence and their own identities; one is doing well, the other is also displaying the delay in emotional and mental development and narcissistic tendencies. There’s a book that helped put it all into place that you should give to anyone who may have suffered from the control or neglect of a narcissistic mother (which includes addicts) called “Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers.” You may also want to read it for your family members that may not realize yet.

  • Anderssona

    Hi,

    I’m writing a book about young people’s health and would really like to get in contact with you. One topic is children of alcoholics and that is why I’m asking. I would be really happy if you could email me, my address is [email protected]

    Thanks!

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