Addiction is a chronic and if not treated, fatal disease. It captures the addict, imprisons the addict and hangs on with claws that have a grip tighter and more powerful than any animal you will ever encounter. The addicted individual suffers greatly and often finds themselves in the depths of despair they never knew could be possible. However, there are other victims of this awful disease and they often lose the most in this horrific battle……..they are the children.
Children who grow up in alcoholic families are often the most damaged by the disease – unlike the addict, they have little escape. They are confused, they are frightened and more often than not, they blame themselves for the chaos that is going on in the household. Addiction is a selfish disease and without some kind of treatment or self-help the addicted individual is self-absorbed, cruel and thinks nothing of what their actions are doing to those who love them most – their kids. Take a moment and place yourself in the body of a 3, 4, 5 or even 10, 11, 12 year old. Look at the addicted parent through their eyes – they see their hero, their mother or their father acting in a way that is confusing, frightening and they know that something is “wrong”. It has been said many times that if you want the truth you ask a kid, that is because children are more perceptive and observant than most adults. Children have not yet been exposed to all the distractions of adulthood. They continue to believe that the adults in their world will protect them, will care for them, and know what is best. Through the eyes of a child of an alcoholic this fantasy is shattered. In order to avoid the “truth” of what is happening – their mother or father is choosing booze or drugs over them – they create a different story, the story where THEY are the problem. So they do what they can to be “good”. The learn how to walk on eggshells, they learn when it is ok to talk to mommy or daddy and when they need to stay away or give their parents “private time”. They learn how to not ask for too much and to not “rock the boat”. They learn to keep their emotions inside and to minimize their own issues. They learn how to be invisible or perfect. They learn to survive in the alcoholic/addict world.
The truth is children of alcoholics and addicts learn the world is not a safe place and that they cannot rely or trust in others and most of all that they MUST learn to take care of themselves. But worst of all, is they learn and they believe, that they are inherently bad and unworthy and this is what they carry as they grow up.
Some additional ACOA traits are:
Fear of authority figures and sensitive to criticism
Become people pleasers and approval seekers
Have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility often putting others needs before their own
May develop their own addiction or marry someone who is addicted
“Stuff”feelings due to inability to express and cope appropriately.
Alcoholism and addiction are treatable and can be addressed, arrested and put into remission – but the wounds of the child stay and linger long after the parents are even in recovery. Addiction is a family disease and therefore impacts the entire family. Along with the treatment of the addict there must be treatment for the children – the sooner this occurs the less likely these characteristics will develop, be internalized and become obstacles for healthy fulfilling life.