How Children of Alcoholics Can Recover and Thrive

Information About Growing Up With Alcoholic Parents and What It Takes to Overcome the Challenges That Brings

Find out why children of alcoholics have the potential to live more hopeful and enriching lives. With care and support, the negative effects of having an alcoholic family can be reduced so that brighter possibilities have room to grow and flourish.

Whether you're an adult child of alcoholic parents, a teenager growing up around alcoholism, or a concerned friend or loved one of a kid who needs help, you can find support. You don't have to go through it all alone. You are not the cause of the problems. You cannot control a parent's desire to drink, but you can take steps to protect yourself, recover from the trauma you've experienced, or help someone else who is being impacted by a family member's drinking problem.

Let the following information serve as an introductory guide for your journey. You'll discover what you have in common with countless other people. And you'll begin to recognize opportunities that can lead to healing. Through it all, remember this: Around-the-clock support is available if you want to find nearby treatment or recovery programs for yourself or a loved one.

Growing Up With Alcoholic Parents: The Stats

Alcoholism affects all kinds of families. Rich, poor, or middle-class, it doesn't discriminate. So trying to cope with the destructive behavior of alcoholic parents is a much more common experience than many people realize. The stats help tell the story:

  • Over 40 percent of American adults—more than 78 million people—have witnessed or experienced alcoholism in their families.1, 2 And about 20 percent of American adults have actually lived with an alcoholic relative during their youth.3
  • According to some estimates, over 28 million people in America—including almost 11 million kids and teenagers—have had alcoholic parents.4 Across all of North America, as many as one in five people may have grown up with at least one alcohol abuser.5
  • Each year, on average, about 1.4 million American kids and teenagers live in single-parent households in which their lone parent has an alcohol use disorder.6

How Parental Alcoholism Affects Children

Children of alcoholics often live in a constant state of stress that can undermine their growth, emotional development, and physical and mental health. All kinds of short- and long-term risks are associated with having a parent who abuses alcohol. The effects on children are often profound. For example, a parent's alcoholism may cause a child to experience effects such as:

  • Chaos and instability—Many children of alcoholic parents lead highly tense and unpredictable lives. Their family environments often lack structure and organization. For instance, they often can't count on consistent routines or parental guidance. They also may witness frequent parental arguments and receive inconsistent or inappropriate discipline. As a result, they rarely, if ever, feel comfortable, safe, secure, or confident.
  • Neglect and feelings of abandonment—In a lot of cases, parents who abuse alcohol fail to nurture or properly care for their children. They may not be emotionally present for their kids or offer timely wisdom when they most need it. They may also forget birthdays or skip other big milestones. Some children may even be physically abandoned or left alone (or with unsupportive strangers or relatives) for long periods of time. So they may never have the chance to develop the deep bonds with their parents that they need and crave.
  • Abuse—Some alcoholic parents become physically or psychologically abusive when they drink. Children of such parents are often repeatedly traumatized, which can have long-lasting negative effects on their well-being. Violence, threats, verbal aggression, and even sexual assault are common occurrences within some alcoholic families.
  • Shame and guilt—One of the defining characteristics of so-called "children of alcoholic parents syndrome" is a child's mistaken belief that he or she is the cause of a parent's alcoholism and destructive behavior. Children may feel guilty about their own negative thoughts and emotions. And they may think that all problems in the family are the direct result of their own actions or mistakes.
  • Loneliness—A lot of kids in alcoholic families feel alone and don't believe that other people could possibly understand what they're going through. As a result, they may withdraw from social activities and shy away from opportunities to make new friends.
  • Lack of trust in others—Since their alcoholic parents often fail at providing consistency or following through on what they promise, many children have trouble trusting anyone. Their mistrust of other authority figures is often especially pronounced.
  • Low self-esteem—This is one of the most common personality characteristics of children of alcoholics. Feelings of poor self-worth often stem from being neglected, abused, or made to feel invisible. The child is often made to feel that his or her needs aren't as important as the needs or demands of an alcoholic parent.
  • Fear and anxiety—Constant worry and nervousness is often part of the daily experience for kids of alcoholics. After all, they often can't predict what will happen next. And they tend to be regular victims of their parents' destructive behavior. In some cases, they may even get punished for trying to do the right thing. So they fear the consequences of every possible action.
  • Depression—Many children become clinically depressed or suffer from other mental health disorders because of their experiences in alcoholic families. But the symptoms of their depression may go unnoticed or be ignored by parents who are too absorbed with their own problems and impulses.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)—Since living in an alcoholic family can come with all kinds of traumatic experiences, some children develop the same type of mental health problem found in many veterans of military combat. They respond to trauma in a way that causes a range of disruptive (and often debilitating) symptoms.
  • Reduced academic performance—Struggling at school is something that a lot of kids experience when their alcoholic parents don't provide a stable and supportive home environment. Generally speaking, children of alcoholics score lower on tests of academic ability and are more likely to skip classes or drop out of school.4
  • Impeded social development—Making friends and developing other interpersonal relationships can be extremely difficult for children who haven't had good parental role models. They often don't have the tools or self-confidence to forge meaningful connections with other people.
  • Trouble communicating—Many alcoholic parents are so self-involved that they actively discourage their kids from speaking up or don't listen when their kids tell them about their day. So their children may not learn how to communicate effectively.
  • Lack of expression—A culture of silence exists in many alcoholic families. Children may be threatened or demeaned if they try to express their feelings. So they learn to hold in their emotions, at least until those emotions become too overwhelming to repress. Some children eventually become emotionally numb and apathetic.
  • Violent outbursts—In some cases, children of alcoholic parents (especially of abusive ones) turn to violence as a way to express what they're feeling. Pets, parents, siblings, and other children or relatives can all become targets of their violent behavior.
  • Self-harm—As an attempt to distract themselves or get relief from the chronic negative feelings caused by having alcoholic parents, some children hurt themselves (for example, by cutting their own skin).
  • Sexual promiscuity—As an alternative to self-harm, some teenage children of alcoholics turn to sex. They pursue new sexual encounters or engage in other risky or impulsive behavior in order to find short-term relief from their underlying feelings.
  • Overall loss of a normal childhood experience—In many alcoholic families, the kids are forced to grow up too quickly and take on a variety of responsibilities at much earlier ages than they would in non-alcoholic families. They're often expected to make up for the obvious shortcomings of their parents by providing some semblance of structure themselves.
  • Poorer health and health-related outcomes—In general, children of alcoholics tend to have more medical problems than kids of non-alcoholics. In fact, they are admitted to hospitals at a rate that's 24 percent higher than for children without alcoholic parents. And their hospital stays are 29 percent longer, on average.4
  • Increased risk of running away and becoming homeless—In one survey of homeless youth and teenage runaways, more than 50 percent of them said that alcohol abuse was a problem in their family home.4

It's also important to know about the genetic component of alcoholism. Although having an alcoholic parent does not guarantee that a child will develop an alcohol use disorder, it does increase the risk. In fact, some research has found that even biological offspring of alcoholics who've been adopted into non-alcoholic families carry a two- to nine-fold greater risk of becoming alcoholics themselves. And biological sons of male alcoholics are about four times more likely to eventually develop an alcohol use disorder compared to sons of non-alcoholic males.4

Many non-genetic factors can decrease the risk of a child developing alcoholism as an adult. For example, a supportive home environment, the promotion of good lifestyle choices, and a focus on looking after the mental well-being of a child can make it less likely that he or she will become an alcoholic later on.

How to Help Underage Children of Alcoholics

As long as a child has the unconditional love and support of at least one responsible and caring adult, there is hope for his or her current and future well-being. Children of alcoholic parents deserve to know that someone is looking out for them. Their fate can be entirely different from the fate of their parents. Whether you're a relative, neighbor, or friend of the family, here are some things you can do to help a child being affected by parental alcoholism:

1. Show empathy and compassion.

Children who grow up with alcoholic parents need people in their lives who will actively listen to them, remain patient, and provide emotional support without any judgment. They may act out with anger, display deep sadness, crack jokes to distract from their pain, or withdraw and ask to be left alone. Let them respond in the way they need to respond. But assure them that you are there to listen and to be their friend. Acknowledge that they don't deserve to be going through this turmoil.

2. Notify the authorities if you suspect abuse.

This can be a gut-wrenching decision to make, especially if you're a friend or relative of a suspected abuser. But if you see evidence of a child being physically or sexually abused, then it's important to protect the child from further harm by notifying police or child protective services right away. (To be clear, not all alcoholic parents abuse their children. But don't ignore the possibility if you have reason to believe that it's occurring. Your first duty should always be the safety of the child.)

3. Find help for the alcoholic parent.

You may not be able to convince an alcoholic parent to get treatment, but it's essential to try. In some cases, it may be necessary to stage an intervention (with the help of a professional) that involves the parent's closest friends and relatives. If at all possible, it's best to confront the parent when he or she is sober. With the parent in treatment, more focus can be put on helping a child heal rather than just cope. Even a temporary reprieve from the dysfunction of a parent's alcoholism can enable a child to make some emotional progress and start becoming more resilient.

4. Find additional support for the child.

You don't have to do everything yourself. In fact, you probably shouldn't. Almost every community has professionals and support groups that have a ton of experience with this issue. They can help a child break through emotional barriers, recognize that many other people struggle with the same things, and discover a sense of hope. Contact local professionals such as child psychologists, school counselors, or family therapists. And look for local meetings of groups such as Alateen or Al-Anon.

5. Establish new routines and traditions.

Help make the child's life more stable and predictable by scheduling regular activities that you can do together. For example, maybe you can have a game night once or twice a week. Or maybe you can create a new routine in which you go on walks together at the same time each day or every other day. You can even create your own holidays (for anything you want) and enact new, creative traditions to celebrate each year. The more consistency you can build into the child's life, the better.

6. Describe alcoholism as a disease.

Children need to understand that they aren't to blame for their parents' alcohol abuse. One of the best ways to get that message across is to explain that alcoholism is an illness. Let the child know that he or she has had absolutely nothing to do with causing the parent's disease. Explain that the parent is sick and may recover by going through treatment (just as if he or she had asthma, heart disease, or another medical condition).

7. Practice positive, open communication.

Give the child plenty of freedom to express his or her thoughts and feelings. Make it clear that you are always ready to listen and provide comfort. Along the way, encourage the honest discussion of problems and emotions. But also provide plenty of positive messages to support the child's self-esteem and to nurture a hopeful outlook. This kind of communication can help the child learn how to connect with other people in ways that are healthy and respectful.

8. Create opportunities for fun and laughter.

There's a reason why laughter is called the best medicine: It works. Laughing can help a child feel more hopeful and positively engaged in the world. So, as much as possible, find ways to let the child be a child by having fun, goofing off, and being as silly or playful as he or she wants to be. Consider ideas like:

  • Playing dress-up
  • Creating a scavenger hunt
  • Having a food fight
  • Building a fort
  • Inventing ridiculous ghost stories
  • Dancing to awful music
  • Having a water balloon fight
  • Doing messy science experiments
  • Playing hide-and-seek
  • Finger painting
  • Face painting
  • Watching and making fun of terrible B-movies
  • Having a pillow fight
  • Creating obstacle courses
  • Writing silly songs
  • Making a short movie together

Common Characteristics of Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACoAs)

Adults who grew up with alcoholic parents often experience a complex (and sometimes paradoxical) mixture of lingering effects, regardless of whether or not their parents still drink. Those effects can frequently be seen in some of their personality traits and characteristics. For instance, they may exhibit confusing behaviors that impact their relationships or work lives in troubling ways. However, it's important to note that many adult children of alcoholics have also developed positive traits as a result of their experiences. Every individual is different, but here are several examples of how a parent's past or present alcoholism can sometimes affect an adult child:

  • Hyper-vigilance—Many ACoAs perceive life as a series of catastrophes—one crisis after another. So they're constantly on alert for the next potential threat. For them, almost any change to the status quo can be frightening. They may overreact when things don't go as planned or feel excessive fear or anxiety when confronted with someone who is offering criticism or displaying some kind of emotional intensity.
  • Confusion between pity and love—Some ACoAs mistake their feelings of sorrow or compassion for another person as feelings of deep affection. As a result, they may enter into doomed relationships with people who they perceive as needing to be rescued.
  • Self-neglect—While growing up with alcoholic parents, many ACoAs have developed the belief that their own personal needs weren't as important as everyone else's. So they may have the habit of prioritizing the needs and demands of other people, often at the expense of their own happiness and well-being. On the rare occasions when they actually ask for something or stand up for themselves, they may feel consumed by guilt.
  • Empathy—Many adult children of alcoholics have the important ability to empathize with other people's struggles. Since they've lived hard lives themselves, they have a special capacity to understand what it's really like to suffer and cope with life's various challenges. They can put themselves in other people's shoes. This sensitive ability can make them caring and compassionate friends and employees. But it can also make them feel emotionally overwhelmed at times.
  • Trouble relaxing—How do you ever relax when you're so used to living in a chaotic environment? That's what a lot of adults struggle with after growing up in alcoholic families. In a strange way, they may feel more at home if they have a certain level of drama in their lives. They also may have trouble having fun or even go out of their way to avoid playful experiences or situations in which they're expected to not take themselves too seriously.
  • Victim mentality—There's no question that children of alcoholics are victims. But the pattern of thinking that goes along with constantly seeing yourself as a victim can be very detrimental. For one thing, it can cause ACoAs to feel attracted to other people who see themselves as victims, further entrenching the mindset. For another thing, it can cause them to blame every little thing that happens to them on other people or outside circumstances. As a result, they may feel powerless to effect change. In some cases, they may even blame other people for asserting themselves or taking actions that are completely normal and appropriate.
  • Strong ambition—Some ACoAs feel a deep inner drive to achieve their own version of success and prove their overly critical parents wrong. That ambition can help them accomplish their goals. But it can also sometimes turn into harmful perfectionism and unrealistic expectations for themselves and the other people in their lives.
  • A reactive mindset—Adult children of alcoholics have often grown up feeling so tossed around by life that they don't know how to create or control their own circumstances. Instead of taking initiative, they tend to let situations develop on their own and react impulsively to events as they happen. But because they feel out of control, they may respond to other people's proactive behavior with anger, resentment, or frustration.
  • Anxiety, depression, or PTSD—Mental health disorders are fairly common among ACoAs, especially if they were abused or grew up without much outside support or reasons for hope. Their minds have often been traumatized and conditioned by several years of feeling powerless.
  • Addiction—Children of alcoholic parents have a relatively high risk of developing various kinds of substance use disorders during adulthood. But their susceptibility to addiction can also manifest in other ways. For example, some ACoAs develop behavioral addictions such as eating disorders, sex addiction, shopping addiction, porn addiction, gambling addiction, or even work addiction.
  • Impulsiveness—A lot of ACoAs have a strong drive to pursue excitement or anything that gives them an adrenaline rush. So they are prone to taking actions without fully considering (or caring about) the potential consequences. And that can lead to situations in which they or other people have to fix unnecessary problems or clean up unwanted messes.
  • Harsh self-criticism—Every small mistake can become fodder for ACoAs to mercilessly judge and blame themselves. Their low self-esteem can even cause them to dismiss their own achievements as nothing more than rare, random luck.
  • Fear of losing control—Many adults who grew up in alcoholic families have a strong need to feel in control of their surroundings and everything they do. They are often afraid of what will happen if they give someone else control over certain situations. The result is that they sometimes react irrationally when things don't go exactly the way they want. And when it comes to relationships, they may gravitate toward people who can be easily manipulated or are willing to defer to their every whim.
  • Loyalty—This trait can be very positive when it's used to maintain healthy connections with deserving friends, family, or professional colleagues. But it can become a problem when it's taken to the extreme. Some ACoAs have an unwavering allegiance to their alcoholic parents or to other people in their lives who may be abusive or toxic to their well-being.
  • Trouble with follow-through—Have you ever had trouble finishing a project once you've started it? Most of us have. But some adults have chronic struggles with this issue since they grew up in the chaos of alcoholic families and didn't learn how to methodically solve problems by breaking them down into smaller, more manageable pieces.
  • Approval seeking—Many ACoAs base their self-worth on the opinions of other people. They have a strong need for external validation, which can lead to a loss of personal identity, detrimental people-pleasing behavior, and obsessive perfectionism.
  • Self-sufficiency—In contrast to approval seeking, some adult children of alcoholics swing toward the opposite extreme. They may become so independent that they'll go to great lengths to avoid people they perceive as too interested in them or as needing too much attention. As a result, they often have trouble maintaining close friendships or romantic relationships (or they shy away from them altogether).
  • Codependency—Living with alcoholic parents can lead some children to seek out relationships with people who have compulsive, dysfunctional, or abusive personalities. Since that's the only kind of "love" they know, the pattern gets repeated in adulthood. They become attracted to people who "need" them, and their very sense of identity may be wrapped up in catering to their partners' demands.
  • Emotional numbness—A traumatic childhood caused by a parent's alcohol abuse can involve many years of internal suffering that never gets expressed outwardly. By the time they reach adulthood, many ACoAs have spent so long burying their feelings that they've become unable to grieve or express (or even identify) what they feel.
  • Reliability—When it comes to adult children of alcoholics, characteristics like this tend to represent one of two extremes. On this end of the pendulum, ACoAs have become very responsible and trustworthy in an attempt to compensate for their parents' lack of reliability.
  • Irresponsibility—On the other side of the pendulum, some ACoAs deny or lack a sense of their own shortcomings and become careless and untrustworthy. They may view their parents' dysfunctional behavior as normal and strive to emulate it (either consciously or subconsciously).
  • Shame and embarrassment—Having grown up in a family culture of silence, secrecy, or denial, many adults feel deeply humiliated when other people learn of their upbringing. Whether caused by the real or imagined opinions of others, they feel stigmatized for being the children of alcoholics and may resist efforts to talk about the issue.
  • Denial or dishonesty—Almost everyone tells white lies from time to time in order to keep the peace or avoid hurting someone else's feelings. But for some ACoAs, lying becomes pathological. They may lie to friends, family members, or coworkers even when telling the truth would have no undesirable consequences—all while denying that they're acting like their parents.
  • Physical health problems—In addition to mental health issues, undergoing years of stress or trauma also increases the risk of developing various kinds of medical conditions—everything from stomach ulcers to heart disease to cancer.
  • Intuition—Surviving a chaotic home environment requires special coping skills. Because they often had to react quickly to changing and unpredictable circumstances, many ACoAs have developed the ability to operate on instinct and gut feelings as opposed to conscious reasoning.
  • Trouble seeing the nuances—When people experience repeated trauma, their minds start to separate every threatening situation into a fight-or-flight scenario. But that pattern of thinking (i.e., thinking only in extremes) can sometimes carry over into other situations. That's why some adult children of alcoholics often think in terms of all or nothing, black or white, win or lose. They sometimes have trouble recognizing life's subtler nuances, which creates problems when it comes to listening, communicating, resolving differences, and understanding why things happen.
  • Intimacy problems—Developing close relationships with other people can be a real struggle for some ACoAs. They may feel an instinctual need to control or abandon their partners in order to avoid getting hurt. Or they may feel a strong urge to isolate themselves, especially if they fear other people or perceive themselves as being very different from the rest of the world.
  • Resilience—Some people are able to transform their negative experiences from childhood into valuable traits like strength and resilience. It can happen naturally as children learn how to cope through trial and error. Or it can happen with the assistance of supportive friends, family members, or mental health professionals. As resilient adults, they have developed healthy ways to "roll with the punches" and cope with adversity.

How to Start Recovering From an Alcoholic Family as an Adult

Parental alcoholism may have robbed you of a good childhood, but it doesn't have to keep you from thriving in adulthood. You can turn the page and create an entirely new chapter of your life—one that is filled with more hope, love, and joy. It's what you absolutely deserve. And it really is possible to achieve. Your journey to this point may have been long, and the new one ahead may be complicated, but you have a fundamental right to confront your past, speak honestly of its impact, and forge a better future. Here are some things you can do to make that happen:

1. Find a safe place to talk about your experiences.

Having the freedom to honestly discuss your past and current experiences is essential. But you need a safe and supportive environment in order to feel empowered by it. Your goal will be to acknowledge the truth of what's happened to you and identify the things that you needed as a child but didn't receive. It's not about blaming yourself or your parents. It's about owning up to reality and starting your new journey from a place of honest enlightenment.

For adult children of alcoholics, meetings held by support groups like Al-Anon offer some of the best opportunities to begin healing. You'll have the chance to share your story while meeting other people like you and learning from their experiences. You'll also become part of a community built on trust, support, and empowerment.

Professional therapy or individual counseling can also be incredibly beneficial. You may discover far more about yourself (and your true potential) than you ever dreamed was possible. In fact, you'll likely begin to see how your past influences who you are today. And you'll be able to pinpoint the areas of your life that deserve the most attention so that you can move forward with a renewed sense of purpose and direction.

2. Get treatment for any addictions you have.

The sooner you get help for any substance addictions or behavioral disorders you have, the better. Doing so will greatly improve your chances of full recovery from the trauma of your childhood. All kinds of different rehab facilities are available. They offer various treatment approaches, so it's a good idea to explore your options.

3. Identify and question your beliefs.

As you talk more openly about your experiences, you may begin to see troubling patterns in your thinking. Those patterns likely represent beliefs that have been internalized and used as coping mechanisms in response to constant stress or reoccurring trauma. But it's important to ask whether they are helping you move forward or holding you back as you pursue a better life. By getting rid of unhelpful beliefs, you make room for new, supportive beliefs to take their place. Here are just a few examples of self-destructive beliefs that many adult children of alcoholics choose to banish from their lives:

  • "My needs aren't as important as those of other people."
  • "Everyone takes advantage of me."
  • "I'm not enough."
  • "People don't care about my opinion."
  • "Nothing ever changes."
  • "Saying no is not an option."
  • "I don't deserve happiness."

4. Set and enforce healthy boundaries.

Does one or both of your parents still abuse alcohol? Do they try to interfere with your life now that you're an adult? Does their alcoholism consistently cause you problems? If so, now's the time to start establishing clear boundaries—and follow through on enforcing them.

As an adult, you have every right to choose what you will or will not tolerate. You get to decide what happens if an alcoholic parent crosses a line that you've clearly marked out. Without healthy boundaries, you can't be of any great help to anyone, least of all yourself. That's why setting boundaries is one of the most loving actions you can take for the people you care about, even if they have a hard time seeing it that way.

Remember: You are not responsible for a parent's alcoholism. And it isn't your problem to overcome. You never asked to be a lifelong caregiver, and you don't have to be one now (especially since you probably don't have any professional training in how to handle crisis situations). You're still the child in the relationship, and you have your own problems to deal with.

So the best thing you can do is set a good example by creating the best possible life for yourself. If your parent wants a relationship with you, then he or she will have to respect your boundaries. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Schedule a time to discuss this subject with your parent (preferably in person) when he or she will be sober (or as close to sober as possible).
  • Prepare for the conversation by writing down the boundaries you're going to set and defining what the consequences will be if your parent crosses them. (It sometimes helps to jot down your observations over the course of multiple interactions so that you can spot patterns and won't forget anything.) What does your parent do that you absolutely will not tolerate any longer? What are you prepared to do if he or she continues that behavior? Be specific. For example, many adult children of alcoholics have established boundaries like the following:
    • "I will no longer visit or let my family be around you when you've been drinking. If you are under the influence of alcohol or drink in our presence, we will leave."
    • "I will not speak to you on the phone, over the Internet, or in person when you are under the influence. If you call me drunk, I will hang up."
    • "I will not allow myself or my family to be disrespected, belittled, or lied to. Nor will I hang around to engage in arguments or watch you argue with others in my presence. If any of that happens, I will leave. If it happens more than twice, I will stop talking to you and will not visit again until you can prove that you've been sober for at least one year."
    • "Your legal troubles are your own. I will not bail you out of jail if you've been arrested for any offenses even remotely related to your alcohol abuse."
  • Begin the conversation by stating that you love and care about your parent. Then, in a calm yet direct manner, get right to the point–without any apologies or justifications. Be as firm and direct as you can in stating your boundaries. And don't get roped into arguing. If things get too heated, stand up, hand your parent a printed list of your boundaries, and walk away.
  • Follow through by enforcing your boundaries—in exactly the way you've stated—any time they are crossed (even when it feels frightening or uncomfortable). Doing so indicates that you have great respect for yourself and that your parent should as well.

5. Forgive your alcoholic parent.

Forgiving an alcoholic parent can be incredibly tough, especially if he or she hasn't stopped drinking. So it isn't for everyone. As an adult child of an alcoholic family, it's perfectly okay to avoid this step. There is no shame in admitting that you simply can't bring yourself to forgive someone whose behavior has caused you (and maybe other people you love) so much grief and suffering. But for some adults in this situation, forgiveness can be very healing. It isn't for your parent; it's for you. And you can still have boundaries.

Forgiveness provides a way to release a lot of the anger and resentment you carry around inside. It's about giving yourself permission to let go of your desire to punish your parent (no matter how justified) so that you have more room for positive growth and better experiences. It's about taking the power away from your alcoholic parent and giving it to yourself instead. It's an act of self-compassion that can help you forge a new, more empowering identity.

Sure, your parent may not deserve forgiveness. But you deserve to break free of his or her influence. Put yourself first.

6. Practice new life skills.

As someone who grew up with an alcoholic parent, you may not have had the chance to develop the kinds of life skills that other adults tend to take for granted. But with the help of a counselor or therapist, you can start learning how to live your adult life in a way that's effective and fulfilling. For example, you can learn how to:

  • Say no to other people without feeling guilty
  • Create win-win agreements
  • Make important decisions without constantly doubting yourself
  • Solve problems from a place of mental clarity
  • Ask for what you need and want
  • Accept constructive criticism without feeling worthless
  • Engage with the world proactively rather than reactively
  • Calmly but firmly stand up for yourself
  • Regulate your emotions
  • Laugh at yourself and find humor in life's challenges

7. Read insightful and inspiring books.

Never underestimate the power of a good book. Reading can allow you to explore and reflect on various issues in a way that sometimes goes much deeper than what you can experience by talking, attending seminars, or watching films or television shows. If you don't enjoy the physical act of reading, try audio books.

Here are several books that have been recommended by mental health professionals and adult children of alcoholics. Books like these can help you better understand yourself and your parents, and many of them are full of amazing advice that can help you heal and create a much more enriching life.

Find Help Right Now

Whether you need rehab options for your alcoholic parent or help with overcoming your own addiction, you can find support in your area.


1 National Association for Children of Alcoholics (NACoA). 7 Facts About COAs. Retrieved 2018, May 28 from NACoA.

2 Gold, M. (2016). Children of Alcoholics. Psych Central. Retrieved 2017, October 13 from

3 American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP). (2011). Facts for Families: Children of Alcoholics. Retrieved 2017, October 13 from AACAP.

4 National Association for Children of Alcoholics (NACoA). Children of Addicted Parents: Important Facts. Retrieved 2018, May 28 from NACoA.

5 Drapkin, M., Eddie, D., Buffington, A., & McCrady, B. (2015). Alcohol-Specific Coping Styles of Adult Children of Individuals with Alcohol Use Disorders and Associations with Psychological Functioning. Alcohol and Alcoholism. 2015 Jul; Volume 50, Issue 4, Pages 463–469.

6 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). (2012). Data Spotlight: More than 7 Million Children Live with a Parent with Alcohol Problems. Retrieved 2020, January 2 from SAMHSA.

Khoury, L., Tang, Y., Bradley, B., Cubells, J., & Ressler, K. (2010). Substance use, childhood traumatic experience, and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in an urban civilian population. Depress Anxiety, 2010 Dec; 27(12): 1077–1086.

Park, S. & Schepp, K. (2015). A Systematic Review of Research on Children of Alcoholics: Their Inherent Resilience and Vulnerability. Journal of Child and Family Studies. 2015 May; Volume 24, Issue 5, Pages 1222–1231.

Widom, C. & Hiller-Sturmhöfel, S. Alcohol Abuse as a Risk Factor for and Consequences of Child Abuse. Retrieved 2017, October 13 from National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.