Growing up with an alcoholic parent can be an extremely difficult process. A parent under the influence of alcohol may seem out of control, unable to be a provider, teacher, role model, or friend to a child, who is forced to grow up too fast.
Through a combination of this stressful environment and genetic factors, many children of alcoholics may be in some danger of developing addiction themselves. However, in spite of the risk factors, a predisposition to alcohol abuse need not be doom or destiny.
Understanding the risk, and knowing what precautions and treatment to take can go a long way in helping you avoid fall into the trap of alcoholism, in spite of what you have seen in your past.
Environmental factors make alcoholism seem normal, but can also be a deterrent
All parents have a profound impact on their children. Even more powerfully then what our parents tell us, is the lives they demonstrate. Children watch the behavior of adults very closely, and pick up cues of ways to behave.
Sadly, this means that when a parent is engaging in addictive behavior, the child grows up thinking such behavior is normal. Other children of alcoholics end up with alcoholic or addicted partners, in a different way being conditioned to find the dysfunctional relationships with an addict as "normal."
The most dangerous way to about life is with these tensions unaddressed, repressed, and denied. With the support of a group or therapist, you can slowly unpack the negative influence of an alcoholic parent, and learn how to no longer be controlled by him or her.
Addiction and genetics
Addiction, like all aspects of a human being's personality and habits, is created through a complex interplay of genetics, environment, and a person's free will. While there is no such thing as the "addict gene," current research suggests that there our genes create a number of personality traits that may make a person more susceptible to addictive behavior.
Adoption studies revealed that the child of an alcoholic, even when raised by non-alcoholic parents is 4 times as likely to abuse alcohol, offering proof that genes do play a role in encouraging additive behavior. Addiction councilor and UCLA researcher Adi Jaffe has suggested that 50 percent of addictive tendencies can be attributed to genes.
The good news
Of course, if 50 percent of alcoholism is genetic, that also means that another 50 percent is at least partially within the individual's control. If you do have a family history of addiction, you may very well have an increased vulnerability to addiction, but you are not powerless.
These addictive tendencies can be overcome, and the choice to lead a life of sobriety is still up to you. The risk may be higher, but it is certainly not inevitable.
Ways for a child of alcoholic to avoid alcoholism
First, wait until you are of legal age to begin drinking. This form of self-control is one way to develop habits to protect yourself, and you wait until your body and mind is able to handle it.
If you do decide to try drinking, be especially careful to always drink in moderation. Out of awareness you are more vulnerable to developing dependency, always stay within limits. The guidelines put out by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommend no more then one drink a day for women, and two drinks a day for men.
Even within these limits stay aware of warning signs that drinking could pose problems either socially (impaired driving, violence) or medically (liver disease and brain damage.) Consult health care professionals about your drinking habits, and follow their recommendations.
Also, your childhood growing up with alcoholics may bring with it some tensions and trauma. Some common feelings of losing a parent to alcohol include guilt, anxiety, embarrassment, mistrust of close relationships, anger, and depression.
You may experience the temptation to try to self-medicate these negative emotions by drinking. The National Association for Children of Alcoholics offers resources and support groups to help you peruse healing in more healthy, direct ways, and can help direct you towards responsible moderation or sobriety yourself.