Addiction is a family disease and affects the development of children 

The cold hard truth is that alcohol addiction and substance abuse is a family disease. This might shock some readers but the evidence is in the research. Unfortunately, because of the nature of the disease, most addicts are unable to see that their behaviour has negative effects on loved ones.

Whether you are considering recovery from alcoholism or substance abuse, in recovery already or know someone who needs help, then recognising the social effects is very useful knowledge.

The following characteristics or personality traits are common in adults who experienced parents with alcoholism or substance abuse problems.

People pleasing

Stemming from the tendency to overcompensate towards other people, adult children of alcoholics or substance abusers often say yes to everything they are asked to do.

While this trait might appear to be nice and civil it can open the door to being taken advantage of. It can also create stress or anxiety because they don’t like the feeling of letting people down.

Highly self-critical

Many adult children of alcoholics or substance abusers take themselves very seriously and are highly self-critical. This can lead to anxiety or depression over time.

This often comes from blaming themselves for a parents’ behaviour when they were younger.

The trait develops in adult life as being very hard on oneself when a mistake is made. They find it difficult to give themselves a break. They may also have a lower self-esteem or negative feelings of self-worth.

What is normality?

In some cases, adult children of alcoholics never gauged what a normal family environment is. Growing up in an unstable household makes it difficult to identify good role models and bad role models.

This can result in some unease with families because of uncertainty about how to behave. There might also lead to a tendency to avoid social situations or even a preference for isolation.

Relationships and trust issues

It is surprisingly common for children of alcoholics or substance abusers to confuse love with pity and sometimes choose people who need to be saved or rescued.

After growing up in a manipulative environment, with lies or denials and perhaps secretive behaviour, this can lead to developing trust issues with personal relationships.

It can be difficult for adult children of alcoholics or substance abusers to let themselves trust others and hence struggle with romance.

Toubled teen - family addiction - Camino Recovery Spain

Fear of abandonment

Perhaps an alcoholic parent was emotionally unavailable or just not around the house that much. Naturally, this can make a child feel abandoned or rejected and that can develop a lot of emotional issues much later on.

Understandably, a fear of abandonment in adult relationships can mean they stay in bad relationships too long because they really don’t want to be alone.

In addition, adult children of addicts tend to be very loyal in relationships because of confused childhood conditioning.

A focus on approval seeking

Because of the lack of parental attention from a mother or a father (or both), children growing up in an alcoholic environment rarely received support or approval from either one or both of their parents.

This develops into approval-seeking later in life and acts as a gauge of success or satisfaction. It could be approval from the opposite sex, approval in a work context or professional domain or approval in other activities such as a sport or in the public domain.

Perhaps as a reaction to all the above or to avoid criticism from a parent, many children of homes with addiction issues become very responsible and a tendency towards perfectionism.

They often become overachievers and workaholics, or they often go in the opposite direction and become irresponsible and dropouts from society.

Co-dependent relationships

Within all layers of the family, there are healthy and unhealthy dependencies. Obviously, children are dependent on their parents for love, support, and safety.

But when a parent becomes manipulative, violent or absent then an unhealthy dynamic develops over time and results in resentment and anger towards all the family members.

It’s extremely difficult for non-addicts to understand why addicts just won’t stop using substances or drinking when it brings so much turmoil. All the energy needed trying to help the sick member of the family can result in a lack of attention for other members of the family. Addiction removes a person’s impulses and removes the ability to choose in the addicts’ mind.

While it’s hard to accept this both for the addict and the family, it often leads to the first actions towards recovery.

Armed with this knowledge the best thing that a family member can do is to take action.

The suffering family member must learn to say NO and explain the reasons why.

Here, at Camino Recovery we have a lot of experience in helping people recover from all types of addictions and the best advice for family members with many questions. Please contact us sooner rather than later!

ACOA (Adult Child of Alcoholics) is a 12 step support group primarily concerned with providing a forum for those who to desire to recover from the effects of growing up in an alcoholic or dysfunctional family.

On many occasions process addiction and mood disorders manifest themselves in many sufferers.

Camino Recovery is a private drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre located on the Andalucian Coast in Spain.

Please contact us for more information or if you need a confidential and free chat with one of our highly-trained professionals. Email: or call us in Spain +34 951 107 195 or UK +44 (0)7492 426615

Sometimes the hardest step is reaching out for help but it’s also the most important.


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