Here's What No One Tells You About Growing Up With Alcoholic Parents

You Have An Unclear Idea Of “Normal”

If you grew up with alcoholic parents, chances are you have an unclear idea of what normal is. Since you have never experienced what a ‘normal’ family looks like, you are constantly questioning what is acceptable behavior and what is wrong well beyond your childhood years. You do not have clear examples of good and bad role models, and in turn, it can result in similar behaviors that you grew up witnessing. Or, you can retreat entirely, ultimately defeating yourself before you really try.

You Get Going Before The Going Gets Tough

Adult children of alcoholics tend to have difficulty completing a task from beginning to end. If it gets too difficult, chances are you will give up before you give yourself a chance to succeed. This pertains to daily tasks as well as to relationships. It is easier to withdraw than to subject yourself to potential failure. This leads to constant self-criticism.

You Are Your Own Worst Critic


You are full of insecurities, which stems from the home life that you were exposed to growing up. You never feel good enough for anything – school, work, and relationships – so you don’t try. You would rather fly under the radar than leave yourself vulnerable with the possibility of being judged. Before anyone gets the chance to judge you, you make sure you have unmercifully judged yourself. This leads to the inability to enjoy your life as it is.

Having Fun Is A Difficult Task

Since you were exposed to many ruined holidays and parties due to your parents drinking, it has created an expectation that any fun environment will be sabotaged by an emotional outbreak. Similar situations evoke emotions of instability, leaving you with the inability to have fun. Happiness feels insincere and anger is still very present, which makes having fun like ‘normal’ people feel crippling. The inability to have fun leads to making everything into a serious matter.

You Take Yourself Too Seriously

You tend to take yourself, and everyday situations very seriously. This can be in part due to fear of provoking your parents when you were a child. Laughing or making light of a situation was a trigger point for your alcoholic parent, which makes you have a more serious outlook on life as you have entered your adult years. You are unable to laugh at yourself or give yourself a break when you make mistakes. Everything becomes a serious matter. These traits tend to cause difficulty when beginning relationships.

You Have Difficulty With Intimate Relationships


Due to trust issues and the negative view you have of yourself, you have difficulty developing intimate relationships. It is hard to get close to someone on an emotional or physical level out fear of turning out like your parents. It is difficult to allow yourself to be dependent on another person emotionally and for your own fulfillment. The lack of self-esteem leads to the constant need for affirmations.

You Are On A Constant Search For Approval And Affirmation

You probably received very little praise growing up, which is why you tend to seek approval as an adult. There is a need to ‘fix’ others around you and please people before yourself, which typically stems from low self-esteem. You try to be the ‘rescuer’ and form relationships with those who are emotionally unavailable, which can lead to depression when the relationship inevitably fails.

You Feel Depressed

black-and-white-person-woman-girl-largeYou have been experiencing depression in your adult years. This is because alcoholics do not tolerate intense, uncomfortable feelings. Years of ignoring emotions turns into depression later on in life, making you isolate yourself entirely.

You Feel Like An Outsider

Social situations tend to be uncomfortable for you. It is easier to build a wall and keep people out instead of leaving yourself vulnerable to judgement. Making friends seems like an impossible task so you choose to keep your distance. You tend to channel your energy on other things, such as working out or other compulsive behaviors.

You Have Adopted Compulsive Behaviors

Sadly, this tends to lead to alcohol abuse, since it was present in your every day life. If it does not lead to drug or alcohol abuse, it can often lead to compulsive eating, exercising, or becoming a workaholic. It is a trait that has been embedded in your brain from years of witnessing extreme behaviors, and has now translated into your everyday duties.

You Are Extremely Responsible Or Extremely Irresponsible

One end of the spectrum is the need to achieve perfection. This can be in part because of harsh criticism you received from your alcoholic parent, in which you strive to be perfect to avoid criticism all together. At the other end of the spectrum is irresponsibility. Since perfection is ultimately unattainable, chances are you fell short of achieving such a goal, and became very irresponsible because you just “don’t care anymore.”

You Are Extremely Loyal – Even When It Is Undeserved

You have an immense sense of loyalty to those in your life, whether it is deserved or not. After years of remaining loyal to your parents that suffered from alcoholism, while defending their every move, it is easy to have that translate into your everyday relationships. This can range from having a friendship where you’re being taken advantage of, yet you justify why your friend is doing so. Or, it can be a romantic relationship where your partner is either emotionally or physically abusive.

You Tend To Not Think Things Through

You are impulsive. This can cause you to experience major self-loathing and confusion when something occurs that you did not plan for. You feel as though you have lost control of your environment and you wind up spending many hours/days/months/years trying to resolve what went wrong.

You Are In A Constant State Of Denial

Denial is one of the biggest problems adult children of alcoholics face. After years of stuffing down your feelings or traumatic experiences, it becomes difficult to express yourself. This turns into denying what you went through as a child, and refusing to admit you have been affected by your family’s issues.

You Are Frightened By ‘Angry’ People

When being criticized for not completing a task properly, it is easier to clam up and retreat instead of engaging in a conversation. It often brings back the memories of disapproval, which makes you associate ‘firm’ people with ‘angry’ ones. When others raise their voices, it sends messages to your psyche that these are people to avoid.

You Have Become Dependent

20130704-CodependentThe relationships that you have developed tend to become unhealthy ones. This is because you never received emotional fulfillment as a child and are deathly afraid of abandonment now that you have reached your adult years. As a child, your parents were not emotionally present, which caused feelings of abandonment. You will do whatever is necessary to not experience that pain again.

You Refuse To Admit You Have Qualities Of Your Parents

After escaping the alcohol-driven environment, it is easy to say that you are nothing like your parents. However, being dependent on the approval of others is much like how your parent was/is dependent on alcohol. You refuse to see the similarities between yourself and your parents in terms of learned dependency.

You Have Developed A Victim Mentality


You are either a passive or aggressive victim. You play the victim card knowingly, or you become so enmeshed in your own thoughts that you wear your emotions on your sleeve. Either way, people around you know that you have gone through struggles.

You Are Constantly Ill

You are used to experiencing stressful situations since you were exposed to so many as a child. When you are highly stressed, your body’s immune system gets weakened causing you to get sick. Growing up in a household with alcoholic parents led you to experience stressful situations from a young age, making your adult life more susceptible to stress and illness.

You Lie When You Can Tell The Truth

After many years of lying for your parents, it has now become the most viable option for you. In a situation where it would make the most sense to tell the truth, like, “Why didn’t your dad pick you up from school today?” you choose to cover up a situation and lie about it instead.

You Have Lost Your Identity

Unfortunately, as time passed and you have moved on from your alcoholic upbringing, your identity was lost along the way. After years of fighting for your parent’s approval, you now need the approval of others. You typically adopt characteristics of people around you, causing you to question your own personality.

When it comes to growing up with alcoholic parents, know you are not alone. Al-Anon Family Groups are out there to help you cope with your upbringing by listening to other stories of people that have gone through similar struggles. Don't wait to find a meeting in your area, find one today.