Children of alcoholics display their own forms of psychological problems and have been studied for the past 20 years. Mothers-to-be who drink heavily while pregnant can damage the unborn fetus. Fetal alcohol syndrome is relatively rare in other parts of the world, but has a very high prevalence in South Africa. Emotional problems dog the lives of these children right up until adulthood.
Children of Alcoholics
Children of alcoholics are more likely to have hyperactivity disorders in childhood and develop conduct disorders in their teenage years. As adults, they are at a high risk of developing alcoholism.
A grown-up child of an alcoholic is commonly referred to as an “Adult Child of an Alcoholic” (ACOA). This group of people can often present with their own emotional problems and may struggle to form healthy and happy relationships.
Some people note that a family with an alcoholic parent often develops a pathological communication style. The metaphor of “there is an elephant in the middle of the room but nobody mentions it” refers to how certain subjects become taboo for the family.
The family adjusts itself to try and accommodate the alcoholic which leads to unnatural communication and unhealthy dynamics.
Children growing up in this environment do not know any other form of family and will assimilate the rules and taboos as being normal.
As part of their own healing process, they need to change their understanding of the family they grew up in.
A 1996 study in America examined how 20 people who were the adult children of alcoholics experience changed ways of understanding the family they grew up in.
The study suggested that growing up in a family with an alcoholic parent leads to a shift in how the child understands the world. The process of healing comes through reframing the experiences in childhood.
This involves firstly acknowledging that the family system was pathological as a result of a disease. This helps to shift blame from the adult child.
The adult child must acknowledge that he/she was negatively affected by this family and learn to accept the shortcomings of the parent.
Alcohol rehab will include a portion of family therapy to help the family start coming to terms with how the family has been torn apart by drinking. Family members should sit in conjoint therapy sessions to explore the dynamics, secrets, and unspoken “rules” that the family operates on.
This will help the alcoholic to heal but will also bring clarity and understanding to the family who will be able to start their own healing process.
Supporting For families Of Alcoholics
There are 12 step fellowships dedicated to supporting the families of alcoholics. It is my feeling that while the alcoholic is in the detox center the family should already be starting to explore these fellowships.
Alcoholism is very much a family illness and treating the family is an important way to prevent relapse in the alcoholic and help the family themselves recover.