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Therapy for Adult Children of Alcoholics

Recovering from your Dysfunctional Childhood


If you grew up with a parent who drank too much, you may be dealing with long-term effects you never realized. Perhaps you didn’t know they were alcoholics, or have denied it for a long time, but accepting your parent’s flaws is the first step to recovery.


Alcoholism, or “Substance Use Disorder”, can severely damage a person’s health and make them act in harmful ways. Living in the same household as an alcoholic is difficult. It is especially damaging if it is a parent.

If you grew up in a household that drank a lot, you may need to identify the signs of alcoholism, and how to fix it.







Signs of a Problem

It may be hard to admit that your parent had a problem, or that you may have one too. If you see many of the following problems, you do not be afraid to see a Mental Health Professional:


  • They are not able to say no to alcohol.

  • They neglect a lot of important responsibilities because of alcohol.

  • They gave up things they used to love to have more time or money for alcohol.

  • They continued to drink even when it caused problems in relationships and at their job or when it caused health issues.

  • They needed more alcohol to get the same effect (they built up a tolerance).

  • They had withdrawal symptoms.


This can also happen with things like pills and other drugs. If you grew up with a parent who showed these signs, you are likely the child of an alcoholic. You may have challenges that you are not even aware of. You can live a happy, healthy life especially if you seek out help from a therapist.


Your childhood

As a child, seeing your parents drink so much (and how they acted afterward) may have been scary, confusing, or sad. You may often have thought you were the one who caused them to drink. It’s not your fault. You did not cause their problem.


It’s likely as a child you felt some of the following emotions or thoughts:


  • You felt alone.

  • You were afraid of authority figures.

  • You constantly sought approval.

  • You often felt the world was making you a victim.

  • Angry people frightened you and you feared receiving criticism, even if it was positive.

  • Low self-esteem.

  • You wanted to fix your parents and other people.

  • You constantly denied your feelings.

  • You had a severe fear of being abandoned and left alone or without love.


While these aren’t necessarily disorders, they can be signs that you need help for other, deeper issues.


If you grew up in an alcoholic home, you may have developed any combination of the following challenges. If you think you may exhibit symptoms of these mental illnesses, please see a therapist.


  • Codependency: Codependency is an unhealthy reliance on another person, often in a way that enables one or both to abuse a substance. People who are codependent often cannot function by themselves.


  • Substance Use Disorder: You may fit some of the qualities listed above for abusing alcohol like your parents did. It’s possible you abuse a different substance than your parents did. Therapy and support groups can help!


  • PTSD:  You may be suffering from PTSD if you have flashbacks of traumatic events, trouble sleeping, and extreme anxiety around people who remind you of your abusive parent.


  • Abusive Relationships: You may have the tendency to seek out abusive relationships. You do not have to stay in a relationship like this. You may also be the abuser in the relationship and don’t know how to stop. You can get help and stop the cycle of abuse!


  • Depression: If you feel sad all the time, have trouble getting out of bed, or have lost interest in things you love to do, it may be caused by your childhood experiences. Seeking help can help you move beyond depression.


  • Anxiety: If you experience panic and stress in simple or normal situations, this may be caused by an anxiety disorder. Seeking help can help you live a happier and more fulfilling life.


There may be other mental illnesses as well. You can choose not to live with these challenges. Getting help may be overwhelming. You may be uncertain about what will happen. But by finding the help you need, you can gain the tools to reclaim your life!

Where to seek help

If you find you need therapy, either with coping with past or present parental alcoholism, or with any disorder you may have developed from that, please consider the following methods of support and help:


  • Al-anon (24-hour hotline at 1-800-344-2666): Al Anon is a lot like alcoholics anonymous in that it offers a support group that meet regularly. This one is for friends and family of alcoholics, though, and follows many of the principles of alcoholics anonymous, including anonymity. They have meetings all over the country, and a 24-hour hotline you can call for support or to find a group. They also have online virtual meetings. They can help you find happiness while knowing an alcoholic.

  • Adult Children Screening Quiz: This short 20 question quiz will help you decide if you need to seek help. It can show you how affected you were by living with an alcoholic parent.

  • Adult Children of Alcoholics: This is a support group that follows the tradition of the twelve step program. It is specifically for adults who grew up in an alcoholic home. They provide a safe space where they don’t judge. You will learn to process your trauma as a child and to help heal yourself and break the chain of substance abuse and bad relationships.  To find an ACA meeting near you, click here.

  • This free website has a ton of resources about substance abuse andcan help you find help on a state by state level. It has forums, a blog, and references to intervention and treatment programs for all sorts of substance abuse problems. You may be able to get help for yourself or your parent through this website.

  • National Association for Children of Addiction: Even if you are an adult, if you have other relatives or friends who are children living in an substance abuse home, you can use this website to find an advocate for them. The NACoA fights to minimize the effects of growing up in a substance abuse home before it’s too late.


The best place you can seek help is through therapy and working with a dedicated mental health professional.


It may be scary to seek help. You may think you don’t need it. The truth is that most people can benefit from seeing a counselor, and if you’ve grown up in an alcoholic home, it’s the best and most permanent way to heal.

It is important that you stop the cycle! You are at risk for having the same problems as your parents. Maybe they haven’t developed yet, or maybe you are in denial. The best way to ensure the wellbeing of those you love is to seek help.

You can free yourself from your past. You can reclaim your happy, healthy life. You can be the best version of yourself. Through support groups and therapy, you do not have to be defined as the adult child of an alcoholic. Be brave, seek help.

Call Dr. Clare Albright, Psy.D. Clinical Psychologist License PSY11660 at (949) 454-0996 or visit

ACA Adult Children of Alcholics
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