The Struggles of Adult Children of Alcoholics

Surviving in a Dysfunctional Family: The Struggles of Adult Children of Alcoholics

Growing up in a dysfunctional family, especially with a parent who struggles with alcoholism, can have lasting effects on children. Individuals who grow up under the influence of alcohol-ridden guardians are 3 times more likely to be abused both physically and sexually. These effects are very long-lasting and extend into adulthood. Individuals with alcoholics as parents will experience challenges unique to their struggle. While Navigating through these struggles may feel like a very lonely process, help is available. If your friend has a parent with alcohol use disorder (AUD), this blog will serve as a guide for you. In this article, we will discuss the struggles faced by adult children of alcoholics (ACOAs) and explore strategies for healing and thriving despite a challenged upbringing.

Understanding Dysfunctional Families

A dysfunctional family is one characterized by unhealthy patterns of behavior, communication, and relationships. In households where the guardians are alcoholics, chaos, unpredictability, and emotional turmoil are also rampant. Children raised in such environments may experience neglect, abuse, and a lack of stability, which can significantly impact their development and well-being.

The Struggles of Adult Children of Alcoholics

Dysfunctional households give rise to difficult issues for the children growing up in such a situation. While there are some very commonly known struggles of ACOAs, some of them are difficult to understand as they unveil themselves implicitly.

Emotional Baggage

ACOAs often experience deep emotional instability and turmoil. With a constant sense of shame, guilt, and inadequacy, ACOAs persistently live under the influence of negative feelings. Due to the unpredictable nature of AUD-ridden individuals, adults tend to be hypervigilant to every situation and surroundings. This hypervigilance also stems from experiencing shame and pain. It allows individuals to feel the need to prepare themselves for any unforeseen situation.


Codependence is one of the major unhealthy patterns that ACOAs develop. It refers to an unbalanced relationship where one person enables the unhealthy behaviors of the other by giving constant support. Growing up in an environment where one or both parents are alcoholics can lead to codependent behaviors. Such adults may prioritize others’ needs over their own, seek validation from either their parents or other people they are close to, and struggle to set boundaries for themselves.

Trust Issues

Trust is often a sensitive concept for ACOAs. Because they constantly experience broken promises, instability, or even betrayal on behalf of their parents, trusting others’ intentions can be challenging for them. This can make it challenging for them to trust others or believe in the stability of relationships. 

Our parents define most of the things for us, which is why trust or stability can be alien concepts for those who spent their childhood in a dysfunctional family.

Risk of Abusing Substances

The risk of developing substance addiction is higher if the parent(s) are addicted to substances. Some ACOAs may turn to alcohol or other substances to cope with emotional and psychological trauma. Moreover, the availability of these substances at home also harbors the chance of using them. This can create a cycle of addiction and add to the struggles of adult children of alcoholics.

Parentified Children

In families where a parent struggles with addiction, the children learn to take responsibility from a very young age. This is called the parentification of children. Some examples include a child taking care of their parents or siblings, managing adult tasks such as cleaning the house, etc. As adults,  such ACOAs may find it difficult to give up control and allow themselves to be vulnerable.

How to Overcome These Challenges

While it is undoubtedly a great struggle, there are ways to overcome trauma or break the cycle of addiction especially in adulthood. 

Learn to Give Up Control

It is very important to learn that you cannot control every situation. Rather than feeling anxious about not being able to control a situation, it is imperative to learn when to give up without feeling guilty, especially when it is not your responsibility to. 

Creating Healthy Boundaries

Prioritizing yourself can be difficult for ACOAs. However, it is one of the great ways to overcome the challenges of growing up with an alcoholic parent. Therefore, learn to establish and maintain healthy boundaries such as saying no and distancing yourself from toxic relationships.

Seeking Support

Getting professional help or connecting with a support group can help overcome issues. Getting in touch with other ACOAs can help validate your struggle and give you a sense of belonging. Knowing that you’re not alone in your struggles can be immensely comforting.

Stop Being Hard on Yourself

ACOAs often struggle with a sense of guilt. Some may even feel like it was their shortcoming that resulted in such consequences. Do not let your past experiences define you. Practice self-compassion, which involves being kind, understanding, and accepting of your past.

Focus on Personal Growth

Do not let the past chain you into defining your future. You can become whatever you like and strive for. Despite the challenges they face, ACOAs can grow, learn, and thrive. Investing in personal development, pursuing hobbies and interests, and setting achievable goals can cultivate a sense of empowerment and fulfillment.


Surviving a dysfunctional family as an adult child of an alcoholic is not an easy thing. However, there are ways that, as an adult, you can adopt to help yourself. By acknowledging their past, seeking support, and prioritizing their well-being, ACOAs can chart a path toward healing, resilience, and a brighter future. Remember, it’s never too late to rewrite your story and break free from the cycle of dysfunction.