Challenges faced by the children of alcoholics

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Psychology: Adult Children of alcoholics and their tendency toward aggression and alcoholism


The subject of adult children born of alcoholic parents has gained a lot of interest lately. The reason for this, is because, it is believed that children brought up to adulthood in such families develop behavioral characteristics that are in most a cases negative in nature. The statement Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA) is used to mean all those children that reach maturity or adulthood being reared amongst alcoholic families. More precisely it means all individuals who have reached the age 18 years and were brought up or raised in an environment that neglected the cohesiveness of the family unit due to alcoholism. According to Stock (1996), the alcoholics may either be the parents, guardians or even their other siblings. These individuals tend to develop realizable impacts or changes as a result of being brought up in such a family setting. The children of such parents, more often than not, posses the ill effects of their alcoholic parents or guardians up until adulthood

They are most likely to develop problems related to spiritual, physical and emotional characteristics and aspects. However, research has shown that not all children brought up in such environments develop the effects of alcoholism in adulthood. This creates a good platform of establishing preventive mechanisms to abolish the effects of alcoholism in a child's life.

There are several aspects associated with aggression of ACOAs that are believed to be linked with the problems they experience during their growth. These individuals are faced with the problem of control. Their self control is often reduced and they tend to loose interactions at a personal level or even with others. They develop the attitude of fear of loosing control. Upon development of fear, it becomes a challenge for them to control their emotions, feelings or even physical reactions (Galanter, 2003). Since there is no one available to control them, they turn into suppression and denial as a mechanism for defense of their characters, feelings and thoughts as well as the general behavior.

Challenges faced by the children of alcoholics

ACOA individuals also face the challenge of trust. These individuals are normally brought up in an environment where fights, chaos and disagreements are common things. This imparts a sense of low esteem or lack of it at all to the individuals. Self esteem is the feeling of self worthiness and the feeling of realizing other people's contribution towards your life. They also develop attitudes of being unpredictable and always live in self denial. Such families live in denial even when things are going bad; they tend to ignore their feelings or emotions for life to continue. All these characters are passed on to their adult children later on.

Hanson, Venturelli and Fleckenstein (2005), postulate that individuals of the ACOA category in several cases are faced with the challenge of avoidance and ignorance of their feelings. Alcoholic families do not believe in expression of feelings. Actually, such expressions are more often than not discouraged and disapproved. An individual expressing his or her own feelings normally faces the wrath of rejection and in the most lenient cases met with anger. These individuals are brought up and taught on always to shun off their feelings however true they might seem to be. Members in this group cannot create a sense of belief in their own mental perceptions. This makes the ACOAs to develop mistrust not only to themselves but also to any other person around them.

Another aspect that poses to be a challenge to these ACOA individuals is the burden of over responsibility. They normally bear the burden of being blamed for each if not all the shortcomings and wrongdoings within the family. Alcoholic parents for example may tend to lay the blame of their drunkard ness on the kids. They normally raise the issue of loss or lack of control from the kids to be the main reason for their drinking behaviors. This will make the child brought up in this family to feel laden by most of the blames towards their parents' negative behaviors. They will always feel short of accomplishing personal responsibilities so as to avoid the blame. As the child grows to maturity the emotions and feelings of inadequacy will always torment them. They will always bear the burden of making up for the laid down blames. Some of these young adults more often than not turn to be counselors and educators of their younger siblings. This means they assume the role of the missing drunken parent or guardian.
Blum and Payne (1991) reveal that children brought up in a family of alcoholics will develop a sense of ignorance to their important and even basic needs. They develop a do not care attitude as normally portrayed by their alcoholic seniors. Emotions and feelings in such a society always come last in favor of the common wrangles, chaos and more often physical harm. Many children growing in this family set-up believe that giving in to emotions and feelings is a sign of being weakness or fear. Acceptance of ones own feelings and emotions is regarded as a sign of dependability and inadequacy. Children who grow into adults in this environment tend to throw all the courtesy and care through the window. The only feeling they appreciate is that of in-debt ness to fulfilling the void normally left by their drunken seniors.

The development model of a young person is built to include care, support and a sense of being sensitive to issues. This will reduce effects of stress, depression and conflicts in a family setting. In an alcoholic family the concept of care is normally neglected or compromised by the parents devoting their time to alcoholism or their partners' alcoholism. This is normally done at the peril of the children; the children will adopt disruptive and distressed methods and will detach themselves from the family unit. This normally happens when the children attain adulthood and they are at a risk of causing total demise of the family bond that existed.

Parental Efforts

A care giver or parent who is addicted to alcohol can at times behave in a manner that will ruin self esteem and the feeling of acceptance to the young kid around him. Alcoholics normally use abusive or obscene language when conversing with the children. This will make the kid develop a no-respect attitude towards the senior care giver or parent. This is normally the case even if one of the parents is not an alcoholic. The actual involvement in the other partners' alcoholisms leads to neglect of key parenting principles. Such a family is at the risk of total detachment from the family unit values.

The use of substance use amongst children born of alcoholic parents is also a research that has been studied widely. Children born of alcoholic parents are at a high risk of using drugs in their adolescence and adulthood. This has been established to be because of stress reduction and as remedy for the bad life they led when they were young. Alcohol abuse among individuals in the ACOA category is not as prevalent as that in non-ACOA category (Bean - Bayog & Stimmel, 1985). This is mainly because those individuals born of alcoholic parents are likely to be introduced to the habit very earl in their development. This makes them to appreciate the habit or to shun away from adopting the habit. If an individual does not feel bad effects of alcoholism he or she is most likely to continue with the habit even in adulthood. However, if he or she feels that alcohol consumption is detrimental to ones growth and development they normally shy away from the habit early enough in life. This is unlike the case for the non-ACOA category; at the age of adolescence and young adulthood, individuals in this category will have very high curiosity urges to indulge themselves in alcoholism. This is actually culminated by the extensive freedom and responsibility given to young adults and adolescents more so those in college. The environment in college is just sufficient and conducive for these young adults to indulge in such habits. There is also the effect of peer pressure, alcohol expectancies and the alcohol advertisements that capture the college students. Parents and caretakers must be very cautious when handling their young ones especially if the family is struggling with alcoholism.

There are however other reasons that illustrate why ACOAs may indulge into substance abuse and alcohol addiction. Alcohol abuse by the parents may lead the child being curious on the liquor and the urge to experiment will be high. This is especially aggravated when both parents are deeply struggling into alcohol. Studies have shown reduced instances of alcohol indulgence in peers when only one parent is alcoholic. Some research has shown that the male parent abuse of alcohol is likely going to lead to high chances of alcohol addiction in peers of such a home setting. Fathers in many societies are known as the family heads. Therefore, any habit that the father indulges in will have a significant effect on the children development and growth. These habits include alcohol consumption and other substance abuse. The children especially the boys will try to emulate in the footsteps of their father not knowing of the consequences that come with such a move.

Review of Literature

Brisbane and Womble (1985) have indicated that children born of alcoholic mothers are the more likely to continue the habit in their adulthood. Mothers are known to be closer to their children than the fathers are. For this reason, mothers sacrifice most of their time just to be with their children unlike the fathers who might even spend more time with peers than their families. Galanter (2003) insinuate that mothers also serve as the first educators of the child and it is very likely that a child will follow what the mother says. Thus, for an alcoholic mother, this habit will be passed on to the kids who will always want to experiment what their mother engages in. For these reasons it can be argued that ACOAs who have their mothers into alcoholism have the likeliest of chances to develop that habit in adulthood than those where the father is an alcoholic.

Bean -Bayog and Stimmel (1987) further argue that alcohol indulgence amongst young adults has several factors that may lead to the adults developing aggressive nature. These adults have reduced sensitivity and hormonal responses. The changes in the hormone known as Neuroendocrine has been related with the risk for alcoholism and the underlying behavioral and aggressive occurrences that are normally associated with the ACOAs. Galanter (2003) supports this by stating that this reduction in several hormones has been attributed to the aggressive nature in adults who abuse alcohol. Also, the young adults were brought up in an environment where violence and fights was very common. This habit normally develops in adulthood and the sense of control is lost forever.

Although most ACOAs develop the alcoholic habit from their parents, there is a small group as per research that does not adopt the habits. This group normally grows up in self-denial. They do not come out to condemn their parents' habits but at the same time cannot indulge themselves in the habit (Hanson, Venturelli & Fleckenstein, 2005). This is influenced by a number of factors. First of all the young adults might have developed fear to face their parents and talk them out of the habit. Also the adults might be recuperating from the evils and experiences they suffered from their parents. Therefore instead of indulging and adopting the habits of their parents they normally shy away from the habit. The ACOAs who do not adopt parents' habits might have realized the bad effects that come with alcohol abuse and may want to be role models to their siblings (Potter-Efron, 2002).

There are a number of common factors that are prevalent amongst adult children of alcoholics. The issue of seeking identity and acceptance is a common challenge among the ACOAs. The individuals will always seek to be approved by others and to be accepted in the society as they are. The young adults are also more at risk of developing fear and in most cases isolating themselves from the public lime light. This is brought about by the lack of self-esteem and the feeling of self inadequacy. These individuals more likely than not will shy away from discussions that touches on criticism and normally frightened by these discussions. There is also the attraction to a person of another personality rather than a fellow ACOA. This is because of the urge to experience what normally happens on the other side of the coin. The ACOA individuals will most likely approach a workaholic for a wife or a non-ACOA for a friend. The differences between the two normally bring a good understanding and the ACOA will feel appreciated by all parties and the feeling of dependency diminishes (Blum & Payne, 1991).

ACOA individuals normally view all events on the guilty or negative side of view. They frequently regard themselves as victims and viewing the universe from a victim's perspective. They have an overgrown sense of being responsible and to care for others. This is perpetuated by the urge to help others not to suffer the same tribulations they have experienced during their growth. They cater for other people requirements even to a point of assuming their own. This is an outlook of self inadequacy in person and he or she always establishes another person who requires the care and attention.

These ACOA individuals are more times than not sacrificed for the sake of others. They have the confidence and do not give up easily. This happens to be the case because they have been brought up in an environment where defeat is a sign of weakness. These individuals are more involved in the fighting for other people's rights irrespective of the personal gains they will acquire. They are easily dragged into giving in to the demands of anybody else. They normally have a sense of guilt haunting them more so when they see others being oppressed in whatever the scenario (Galanter, 2003). These individuals are always involved in risk taking adventures and they derive excitement from such happenings. They always like to be involved in everything that speaks for people's rights and more often than not are involved in controversial circumstances.


The ACOA individuals are more attracted to the persons they feel need care and they can make impact into their lives. In most a cases their helping hand of pity may be confused for love. They do not allow other people into situations they themselves have been in the past. They will always shun away from giving their childhood experiences lest they be known of either being inadequate or fearful (Galanter, 2003). They will always deny their feelings; this makes it difficult for them to express love and mutual feelings with fear of offending them. There feelings are very far from being felt and they are always frightened and feel painful when faced with any of the experiences they have passed through.

These individuals also have a tendency of laying all the blame on themselves even when their involvement in the occurrence was minimal. They also far being abandoned and bereaved. They go an extra mile to avoid the pain of abandonment. These characteristics breed the character of a chameleon in ACOAs. They try to be what they cannot achieve to be.

The indulgence into crime is also a common activity that the ACOAs get involved in. this is normally brought about by the violence they endured as they grew up from their alcoholic parents. This in most a cases is seen to have developed into a kind of revenge mission. They sometimes do it without financial gain but only to quench their aggressive minds. ACOAs are also at a high risk of being indulged into promiscuity and sexual offences. Their parents normally do not find enough time to educate their children on these issues. As a matter of curiosity the young adults will be involved in the activities their parents were in.

To sum up, it has been established that the ACOAs suffer because of the ‘sins' committed by their parents or guardians. This acts as a wake up call to all parents who indulge themselves in such habits at the expense of their children. Each and every parent or guardian should strike a balance between his or her habits and the issues related to good parenting (Potter-Efron, 2002). This will ensure that even adult children of alcoholic parents enjoy life and get an access to normal growth like all children. This has been sparked by the case of attempted suicides or deaths of ACOAs culminating from stress and depression caused by their alcoholic parents and guardians. Adherence to child teaching will ensure cohesive relationships in a family setting.


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