As a child of an alcoholic, will I become one?

Further Reading

Dear Stanton:

There is a record of alcoholism in my familly. My father is an alcoholic. My question is “Is there a chance I could become an alcoholic?” How risky is it to have a drink when you have this background.

Anonymous


Dear Anonymous:

Of course, you may become an alcoholic. But, how old are you, and how do you drink currently? If you are a normal drinker, then your worries are probably unnecessary. However, like all people, you need to keep your behavior under surveillance, and be aware of your drinking habits and any problems they cause you and others.

Let me state the following:

  1. Children of alcoholics are more likely than average to be alcoholics themselves. This could be due to any number of factors, such as that (a) many such children inherit alcoholism, (b) they endure many problems due to being raised by an alcoholic, (c) people who are alcoholics simply live under worse circumstances and these independently result in alcoholism.
  2. Most children of alcoholics do not become alcoholics. Perhaps a quarter develop a drinking problem themselves. In some cases (daughters of alcoholic fathers), children of such parents may be less likely to develop an alcohol problem than average, according to research by Ernest Harburg and his colleagues.
  3. The ways that children avoid the model of alcoholic parents is by (a) finding other adult role models, (b) associating with moderate drinkers, (c) marrying into a family of moderate drinkers and absorbing and imitating their habits. The latter is a way that people who do not have good drinking habits themselves may protect their offspring from developing the same problems.

The point is that, ordinary awareness and scrutiny of one’s behavior is required whether one is from an alcoholic family or not. You are showing that kind of awareness up front, and this is a good sign. On the other hand, people who pessimistically overinterpret data about children of alcoholics to mean they cannot avoid this fate in fact make it more likely to occur. In other words, the fear that a single drink will drive one to alcoholism is self-fulfilling and is not helpful.

Best,
Stanton

Have you been affected by the issues described in this story?

Many of us have been told that addiction is a chronic or inherited disease that cannot be cured. We do not believe this. We believe addiction is a compelling, destructive involvement that, because it detracts from other areas of people’s lives, forces them to rely with greater exclusivity on the addictive experience they get from the involvement, whether with alcohol or anything else.

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Stanton Peele

Stanton Peele , recognized as one of the world's leading addiction experts by The Fix, developed the Life Process Program after decades of research, writing, and treatment about and for people with addictions. Dr. Peele is the author of 14 books. His work has been published in leading professional journals and popular publications around the globe.

Comments

  • Elizabeth Harley says:

    I grew up in a large family where my parents drank every night. The effects of my parents drinking damaged my self esteem to the point where I abused alcohol and drugs in my late teens and early twenties. I engaged in risky behaviors clearly numbing my emotional pain with alcohol.
    I married and became pregnant right away. Being pregnant was a gift from God! I stopped drinking overnight and became the loving responsible person I was meant to be!
    It was as if I had been asleep for years. Slowly I began to unravel the events of my childhood and came to the realization that I needed to heal the sorrow that deprived me of my childhood. As well as understand the reasons for the poor choices that I made. I started talk therapy but I needed to talk to my parents and hoped to heal.
    I reached out to my parents, they were so angry that they disowned me for talking to them about their alcoholism.

    My siblings still resent me for telling my parents the truth even though I approached the conversation with compassion and love. Out of 6 children in our family, 3 are sober and 3 are still in their disease.
    I’m now 60 with 2 loving healthy sons and a kind husband.
    I thank God everyday for my life and for giving me the tools to understand my journey.

  • June says:

    Dear William
    Your childhood must have felt so dreadfully insecure and confusing, even frightening. My heart goes out to you and your siblings. It is not surprising that you suffer with anxiety in relation to social drinking. You should not feel guilty about drinking alcohol in moderation. If you find the amount you drink is increasing, or you are drinking because you need to, then you probably need to stop.
    It might help if you contacted the National Association of Children of Alcoholics NAOCA. You can get advise/counselling. And there is helpful info on their website.
    Child/parent relationships can be complicated for many reasons. I found it hard to forgive my mother and to love her. It was not until I learnt about the Christian beliefs of forgiveness, that I began to forgive, and to love. I also learnt that feeling guilty can be a positive thing when it leads us to change for the better, and when God gives that feeling of guilt, it will bring peace. When the guilt feelings drag us down, they are not from God, and should be rejected, then if you wish to, ask God for His peace.
    I learnt that it is okay to be angry with an unkind or cruel parent, but if we hang on to that anger, then we harm ourselves.
    I pray that God will help you to find peace, and that you will find the help and guidance you need.
    June

  • June says:

    Dear Susan
    I cannot imagine how awful it must have been for you growing up. It is wonderful how you have protected your children and been such a good parent.
    It is sad that there was no-one to help you deal with the trauma you have experienced. It is natural for you to be angry with the weakness and self-centredness of your father, and all the dreadful hurt he caused you. Maybe he hated himself though he may never have shown it.
    The anger you feel is what keeps the hurt alive. Forgiving is the only option that will bring peace. Forgiving is not saying it is okay. It was not okay – a parent should love and care for their child. The child should come before the parent’s wants and needs.
    What makes a person turn to alcohol, to such an extent that they become addicted? Once addicted to alcohol or another drug, it is so hard for that person to escape its clutches, particularly with alcohol as it is a socially accepted activity. What your father did was horrendous but don’t give his actions the power to hurt you any longer.
    For your own sake, let go of your past, forgive your father, and start your life afresh. Don’t hold on to anger any more.
    I have had to do a lot of forgiving in my life and it is hard, extremely hard. Sometimes after we forgive, if we are feeling low, the anger comes back, and then I give my anger to God and ask for His peace to fill me instead. I became a Christian after having an abusive marriage. Fortunately there were no children.
    I pray you will find peace and release from the hold anger has on you. Well done for being a good mum.
    God bless you.

  • William says:

    I am the oldest of four children. Both my parents are alcoholics and seemed to fuel each other’s drive to never stop. When my father would get a couple weeks sober my mother would relapse and then he would and vice versa. The police were always at the house with domestic violence calls Child protective services were no stranger to us either. But I’ve managed to grow up and become a functioning twenty three old I have a great job and I’m starting my life. I have had severe anxiety starting this past year maybe it’s because of what has happened to me when I grew up. There was never any time to be a kid. Now when I drink the next day I hate myself for it and I can’t shake the feeling I might be becoming an alcoholi like my parents I mean I know I’m responsible and pay all my bills and don’t let drinking interfere with my job or relationship but the hatred I have for myself the next day for even catching a little buzz is unreal. I do enjoy social drinking with my freinds and girlfriend but lately it doesn’t seem like I’ll be able too anymore in fear of the anxiety and self loathing I’ll endure the next day. I just need advice on what I should do as far as social drinking should I stop completely or try and maintain my social life?

  • Susan says:

    I am the daughter of an alcoholic father and am 68. I must say I am still not over the trama. And after raising 3 wonderful children I can look back and say I did my best to protect them from alcohol. What I did not realize was that now I am suffering now from how my dad behaved. I hated him. When he decided to stop drinking after I was married and nearly had my children raised he thought I feel much better now with absolutely no consideration for my mother or me. I have become a strong person in spite of him and a pretty good parent along with my husband. I decided that the buck stops with me. It doesn’t however mean that I will ever be over it i have learned to deal with it with more anger now than before go figure.

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