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Alcoholics, people addicted to drinking alcohol to get intoxicated, have been around about as long as the drink itself. These people drink for several reasons – from just liking the feeling to trying to escape from emotions or the current situation of their family life. No matter what the cause is, the aftermath is usually pretty much the same. Having grown up most of my childhood with an alcoholic mother, I can confidently say that not only is the person who is doing the actual drinking affected physically and mentally but the dependents of alcoholics are usually deeply affected socially and mentally as well.

Growing up with an alcoholic parent can be an extreme struggle. Sometimes a child has to be a parent because their parent is incapable of actually taking care of them, or a child will become codependent on another person because they crave someone to be there to support them in the way that their parent does not. I personally have experienced both of these things. When I was younger and my family was living in Hawaii, my father was in the military, so he would be out on deployment and it would be my biological mother, my brother, and I at home. My mother was a chronic drinker. I remember once when I was in second grade and my brother was in preschool, we had to get up and get ready for school. The alarm had been going off, but my mom was not getting up to get us ready and help make our food to get us out the door. When I got up that morning, I realized that she had passed out drunk and was not in any way able to get up to take care of us. That was the first time that I had to act as a parent to my younger brother. After that, from the time I was about 8 years old to the time my parents divorced when I was 10, I became very involved in taking care of my younger brother and making sure that he was clean, well-fed, and safe.

Having an alcoholic parent can have many different effects on a child, but one of the main developmental areas that this can affect is their social development. Because they have to become a parent, the child doesn’t relate to other children in the same way. They have to grow up faster, so they are not able to relate to the same things that other kids their age are. This, in my case, led to me becoming friends with people who were several years older than me. When someone is 19 and their friends are 23 or 25, it isn’t a big deal. However, when they are 9 years old and their friends are 13-15 years old, then there is. This was how it was in my case. It caused me to grow up much faster and experience things at a much younger age than most of my peers.

According to a study done in 2005 by Dev Psychol, children whose parents were alcoholics had lower social competency than their peers who did not. This essentially means that these children found it harder to make and keep meaningful social connections with their peers. This is an alarming problem when looked at in depth because it has been found that children who make and keep friends are less aggressive, depressed, and lonely than children who do not. On top of that, it has also been found that greater peer rejection and lower peer acceptance have been linked to a lower sense of self-worth and psychopathology in adulthood. Because of this difficulty of making friends, children of alcoholic parents generally end up becoming social outcasts which, when paired with their genetic predisposition for alcoholism, usually ends up with the child following their parent’s footsteps and becoming an alcoholic as well, perpetuating the cycle. While this was never a problem that I personally have experienced, I have had friends with similar home lives to mine that did. They were the kids who were just a little bit weirder than normal, and the kids who usually got picked on a little bit more than the rest. There is one of these friends that I have still kept in contact with, and at the age of 21, she is already a full-blown alcoholic, and the many effects that go along with this seem to be quickly moving in on her.

Aside from the social developmental aspect, there are many other ways that an alcoholic parent can affect their child. In an article written by the APA, there were five basic rules that children in alcoholic homes usually had to follow. These rules aren’t things that are spoken aloud but were understood as law by the children because of the way things in the house run. These rules remind me a lot about the home that I grew up in when I was younger. Most of these rules were unspoken, but they were completely understood, and breaking them could be a very big disaster.

One of the first is a rule that exists in a lot of households worldwide, and that rule is to not speak about family problems. While this is something that seems very basic and not that big of a deal, for a child in an alcoholic household, it is what keeps them from talking about the neglect that they can experience. For example, in the story I told earlier about taking care of my younger brother, I knew without being told that I couldn’t tell anyone about that because my mom would get in trouble if anyone found out. I didn’t have any exact idea of how she would get in trouble or who she would get in trouble with, I just knew that no one was allowed to find out.

The second unspoken rule is that it is not okay to speak about or express feelings openly. This generally stems from wanting to keep peace within the family. Having an alcoholic parent can cause turbulence. Sometimes this is between parents or between a parent and a child, and while this turbulence is unable to be controlled by the child, they can control the drama they bring into the house and try to keep it to a minimum. This is something that I personally still struggle with. Learning from a young age that showing any emotion, except positive ones, creates negative consequences has made it difficult for me to speak openly when something bothers me or when I am upset about something.

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The third in line on this list of rules is communication restrictions. This means that a child of an alcoholic parent will try to limit the amount of outside people they have in their lives. This actually has to do with the first rule where they don’t speak about what goes on inside of the home. The fewer outside people they have in their lives, the less likely it is that someone will question them about their home life, and the fewer people they have to keep an arms-length distance from emotionally. As for me, this was never an issue because I was someone who liked to meet new people constantly. I always liked getting to know someone new and making friends with them, so I never isolated myself in this way.

Number four in this list is less of a rule and more of a constant feeling that’s there in the back of a child’s mind as they go through their daily routine. The idea that nothing is ever good enough, but even so, this unattainable perfection is what is to be strived for. This was something that was constantly in the back of my mind. It always seemed as though whatever I did, no matter how hard I worked, nothing I did would achieve the level of perfection that was expected of me. Despite this though, I didn’t give up trying to reach it, because I always thought that if I was able to reach this goal, then things would be good again. My mom would stop being sad and drinking because things would be going right and she would have no reason to.

And the final rule in this list says that you have to work for the benefit of others, and you cannot be selfish. Most of these rules that get brought up have, in some way, to do with trying to keep the peace. As stated before, there are very few things that a child can control in the home, especially with a volatile, unpredictable mother to care for and worry about. The only thing that can be controlled though is their own responses and actions, so every action they take is done with the thought of keeping their alcoholic parents from going off. This though is a very tricky rule that children have to deal with. Sometimes things that can be perceived as ‘selfish’ are just the child trying to take care of themselves.

All of these rules, taken together, make the child grow up in a home where they have little to no trust for the people around them, and essentially be the parent to the alcoholic adult that is supposed to be taking care of them. In cases with siblings, like in my case, the oldest of the siblings usually has to play parent, not only for the alcoholic adult but for their younger siblings as well. This puts a lot of pressure on the oldest sibling and can cause them to develop bad behavior traits to lash out against the structure that they have to try to keep at home. In my case, I lashed out in many different ways long after my parents divorced and my mom was out of my life. I began to pick up bad habits, became more aggressive, and started not caring as much about school because I wanted to have some type of freedom to make my own decisions, uninfluenced by the idea of my mother and her addiction.

Another effect of the crushing responsibility that a child would be facing is a tendency to claim responsibility for the negative things that happen. Children in these homes, like me growing up, tend to take on a hyper-responsibility role, thinking that everything bad that happens at home is their fault and that they could have prevented it somehow by doing more. This thought process doesn’t generally extend to positive things, and this could either be because the positive things tend to be overlooked in a stressful situation or because there are so few positive situations to take responsibility for, but anyway it makes it so that the child is constantly worried about what negative outcome they have to prevent next. This extreme mindset is a consistent stressor, and this stress can actually lead to health problems like heart disease and high blood pressure as the child grows up.

The final developmental snag that children of alcoholics face is conflict control. Usually, as we grow up, we learn how to handle conflicts as they come. They can be annoying to deal with, but they aren’t anything that is too crazy to handle. However, because children in alcoholic homes are consistently having to deal with conflict in one form or another, they don’t learn to actually face them and fix them, they eventually just learn to avoid them. This can sometimes mean a child dissociating while an adult is yelling at them, or even retreating to their room when they see a conflict is about to arise. In my case, I also had a habit of doing this. Now, of course, I realize that this was just an avoidance technique by which neither I nor other children of alcoholics learned to really deal with conflict as we grew up, either at home or at work.

Summing up, alcohol is an extremely pervasive substance with the capability to affect a person’s life in many different ways. There is nothing wrong with enjoying a cup of whiskey, a bottle of Vailima, or even a glass of Merlot, here and there. However, one must always keep in mind the potential dangers of consumption. Growing up as a child of a neglectful, alcoholic parent can be difficult, but it doesn’t necessarily doom you to a life that is the same as your parent’s. I saw firsthand what alcohol did to my mother, and what it, indirectly, did to me. Alcohol and alcoholism affect not only the individual but also the people around them. The information is out there, and there are always people willing to help. Never fall so far into the grips of alcohol that you let yourself become a victim or an abuser.

#heathcare #medical #medicalcare #pharmaceuticals #healthcareprofessional #nurses #healthprofessionals

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