Adult Children of Alcoholics and Addicts (ACAs)
Although these roles help children cope growing up, as adults, they often become fixed personality styles that prevent full development and expression of the self.
Roles prevent authentic communication necessary for intimacy. As adults, deviating from a role can feel as threatening as it would have been in childhood, but it’s necessary for full recovery from codependency.
Roles can also conceal undiagnosed depression and anxiety. Often, depression is chronic and low-grade, called dysthymia.
Many develop trauma symptoms of PTSD – post-traumatic stress syndrome, with painful memories and flashbacks similar to a war veteran.
Physical health may be impacted as well. The ACE (“Adverse Childhood Experiences”) study found a direct correlation between adult symptoms of negative health and childhood trauma.
ACE incidents that they measured included divorce, various forms of abuse, neglect, and also living with an addict or substance abuse in the family. Children of addicts and alcoholics usually experience multiple ACEs.
2. Second-Hand Drinking
Lisa Frederiksen, daughter of an alcoholic mom, coined the term “Second-Hand Drinking” or SHD to refer to the negative impact an alcoholic has on other people in the form of “toxic stress.”
It’s toxic because it’s unrelenting and children can’t escape it. In her own recovery, she made the connection between ACEs and SHD and how toxic stress can result in generational addiction, including her own struggle with an eating disorder.
“Both SHD and ACEs are two of the key risk factors for developing addiction (of which alcoholism is one). The two key risk factors are childhood trauma and social environment.
Given SHD’s genetic connection, a person experiencing SHD-related ACEs then has three of the five key risk factors for developing the brain disease of addiction (alcoholism).”
Conversations with her mom, helped Lisa forgive her and allowed her mom to forgive herself:
“During our conversations, mom identified herself as having five ACEs and that her own mom (my grandmother) had a drinking problem.
All of us had long-term exposure to secondhand drinking. To be clear – not all ACEs are related to SHD, of course. My mom had two and I had one of those, as well.
“Mom and I talked about my realization that I’d blindly participated in passing along the consequences of my own untreated SHD-related ACEs to my daughters the same way my mom had blindly passed hers to me. And these consequences were not limited to developing alcoholism or an alcohol use disorder.
They were the consequences of insecurity, anxiety, fear, anger, self-judgment, unclear boundaries, accommodating the unacceptable, constant worry, and the other physical, emotional, and quality-of-life consequences of toxic stress. It was this shocking insight that moved me to treat my untreated SHD-related ACEs and help my daughters treat theirs.
“The bottom line is these discoveries helped my mom finally forgive herself the way I had forgiven her years ago. Not the kind of forgiveness that excuses trauma-causing behaviors, rather the kind of forgiveness that lets go of wishing for a different outcome. It is the kind of forgiveness that recognizes we were all doing the best we could with what we knew at the time.”
In the recent DSM-5 manual for mental disorders, alcoholism is now referred to as an “Alcohol Use Disorder and alcoholics as a person with an Alcohol Use Disorder.
Similar changes were made for other substance-related disorders, classified according to the substance, such as opioids, inhalants, sedatives, stimulants, hallucinogens, and cannabis.
 Adapted from Darlene Lancer, Codependency for Dummies, 2nd ed., Ch. 7, (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.: Hoboken, N.J. (2015)
©Darlene Lancer 2017
Written by Darlene Lancer, JD, LMFT Originally appeared on WhatIsCodependency.Com
Children of addicts lead tougher lives compared to other people, due to the pain and trauma they have experienced in their childhood. Without proper help and support, they find it difficult to move on from the trauma, and somehow it seems to follow them and stay with them wherever they go.