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The trauma of the children of addicts and alcoholics

Living with an addict (including alcoholics [1] it can feel like life in a war zone. The addiction’s personality changes caused by addiction create chaos. Family dynamics are organized around the substance abuser, who acts like a tyrant, denying that drinking or using is a problem, while giving orders and blaming everyone else. To cope and avoid confrontations, family members often tacitly agree to act as if everything is normal, not to make waves, and not to mention the addiction. Family members deny what they know, feel, and see. All of this comes at a high psychological cost, often causing trauma, especially in the most vulnerable, children. However, more than half deny having an addicted father.

Dysfunctional parenting causes codependency
In addicted families, parenting is unreliable, inconsistent, and unpredictable. There is never a sense of security and coherence, allowing children to thrive. Most suffer emotional, if not physical, abuse and therefore have trust issues and anger over their past, sometimes directed at the sober parent as well. In some cases, the sober parent is so stressed that he is more impatient, controlling, and irritable than the alcoholic, that he may have withdrawn from family life. Children may blame the sober parent for neglecting their needs or failing to protect them from abuse or unjust decrees issued by the alcoholic. In high-conflict couples, both parents are emotionally unavailable.

Children’s needs and feelings are ignored. They may feel too embarrassed to entertain their friends and suffer shame, guilt, and loneliness. Many learn to be self-reliant and unnecessary to prevent someone from having power over them again.

Because an addict’s behavior is erratic and unpredictable, the vulnerability and authenticity required for intimate relationships are considered too risky. Children live in continual fear and learn to watch for danger signs, leading to constant anxiety into adulthood. Many become hyper-vigilant and distrustful and learn to contain and deny their emotions, which are usually embarrassed or denied by parents. In the extreme, they can be so detached that they become numb to your feelings. The environment and these effects are how codependency is transmitted, even among the children of addicts who are not addicts.

Family roles
Children often adopt one or more roles that help ease tension in the family. Typical roles are:

The hero. The hero is usually the eldest son and most identified with the role of the parents, often helping with the duties of the parents. Heroes are responsible and self-reliant. They sacrifice and do the right thing to stay calm. They are good leaders, they are successful, but they are often anxious, motivated, controlled, and alone.

The adjuster. The adjuster does not complain. Instead of being in charge like the hero, the fitter tries to fit in and adapt. Therefore, as adults, they have a difficult time taking charge of their life and pursuing goals.

The Placater. The conciliator is the most sensitive to the feelings of others and tries to satisfy the emotional needs of others, but neglects his own. They must also discover their wants and needs and learn to pursue their goals.

The scapegoat. The scapegoat represents negative behavior to distract the addict’s family and express feelings that he or she cannot communicate. Some scapegoats turn to addiction, promiscuity, or other misbehaving behavior to distract themselves and control their emotions. When they are in trouble, bring parents together around a common problem.

The lost Boy. The lost child is usually a younger child who retreats to a world of fantasy, music, video games, or the Internet, seeking safety in solitude. Your relationships and social skills may necessarily suffer.

The pet. Also a younger or younger child, the pet handles fear and insecurity by being cute, funny, or flirtatious to ease family tension.

Adult Children of Alcoholics and Addicts (ACA)
Although these roles help children cope with growth, as adults they often develop into fixed personality styles that impede the full development and expression of the self. Roles impede the authentic communication necessary for intimacy. As adults, deviating from a role may seem as threatening as it would have in childhood, but it is necessary for full recovery from codependency. Roles can also hide undiagnosed depression and anxiety. The depression is often chronic and low-grade, called dysthymia.

Many develop trauma symptoms from PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, with painful memories and flashbacks similar to those of a war veteran. Physical health can also be affected. The ACE (“Adverse Childhood Experiences”) study found a direct correlation between negative health symptoms in adults and childhood trauma. The ACE incidents they measured included divorce, various forms of abuse, neglect, and also living with an addict or substance abuse in the family. Children of addicts and alcoholics often experience multiple ACEs.

Drinking second hand
Lisa Frederiksen, the daughter of an alcoholic mother, coined the term “second-hand drink” or SHD to refer to the negative impact an alcoholic has on other people in the form of “toxic stress.” It is toxic because it is relentless and children cannot escape from it. In her own recovery, she made the connection between ACE and SHD and how toxic stress can result in generational addiction, including her own struggle with an eating disorder.

Both SHDs and ACEs are two of the key risk factors for developing addiction (of which alcoholism is one). The two key risk factors are childhood trauma and the social environment. Given the genetic connection to SHD, a person experiencing SHD-related ACE has three of the five key risk factors for developing the brain disease of addiction (alcoholism). “

Conversations with her mom helped Lisa forgive her and allowed her mom to forgive herself:

During our conversations, Mom identified herself with five ACEs and that her own Mom (my grandmother) had a drinking problem … All of us had prolonged exposure to second-hand drinking. To be clear, not all ACEs are SHD related, of course. My mom had two and I also had one.

“Mom and I talked about my understanding that I had been blindly involved in passing on the consequences of my own untreated SHD-related ACEs to my daughters in the same way that my mom had blindly passed hers on to me. And these consequences are not were limited to developing alcoholism or an alcohol use disorder were the consequences of insecurity, anxiety, fear, anger, self-judgment, unclear limits, adaptation to constant and unacceptable worry, and other physical consequences Quality of Life, Emotional and Toxic Stress It was this shocking idea that prompted me to treat my untreated SHD-related ACEs and help my daughters treat theirs.

“In short, these discoveries helped my mother finally forgive herself in the way that I had forgiven her years ago. It is not the kind of forgiveness that excuses behaviors that cause trauma, but the kind of forgiveness that stops wanting a different outcome. It’s the kind of forgiveness that acknowledges that we were all doing the best we could with what we knew at the time. “

[1] In the recent DSM-5 manual for mental disorders, alcoholism is now referred to as an alcohol use disorder and alcoholics as a person with an alcohol use disorder. Similar changes were made for other substance-related disorders, classified by substance, such as opioids, inhalants, sedatives, stimulants, hallucinogens, and cannabis.

© DarleneLancer 2017

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