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Children of Alcoholics Week: How to Cope With Being the Child of an Alcoholic

By HERWriter
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Mental Health related image Photo: Getty Images

Alcoholism not only affects alcoholics – children can suffer for the rest of their lives because of alcoholic parents. February 13-19, 2011 is Children of Alcoholics Week, which was started by the National Association for Children of Alcoholics.

Patricia O’Gorman, a clinical psychologist in New York, was one of the co-founders of the National Association for Children of Alcoholics, which was started in the early 1980s along with the Children of Alcoholics Week.

She said the week was created to promote awareness and prevention, as well as increase knowledge.

“With awareness can come prevention,” O’Gorman said, referring to preventing the negative outcomes that children with alcoholic parents can have.

Although the tendency might be to focus on younger children who are currently still living with alcoholic parents, there are still adult women who are children of alcoholics and have learned or are still learning to cope with unstable, neglectful and sometimes violent parents.

“I have people telling me all the time ‘Well I should be over this. How come I’m not over it?’" O’Gorman said.

It’s because they haven’t dealt with the past yet and resolved past issues, she explained. Often, there is trauma involved.

“I think the most underreported mental health issue is trauma,” she said. “There tends to be a fair amount of trauma in this population.”

O'Gorman said that depression and anxiety are more often reported by children of alcoholics. Sometimes this is inherited from parents, and other times it’s the result of abusive situations or a combination. However, sometimes other issues, like learning disabilities and behavioral problems, are linked to trauma. Domestic violence and abuse are instances where trauma can be an outcome.

Children of alcoholics are often dealing with more than alcoholic parents as well, since alcoholism doesn’t always come by itself. People with alcohol abuse or dependence sometimes have comorbid psychiatric disorders, like depression, bipolar disorder or anxiety. Some alcoholics may have dealt with low self-esteem, or traumatic events and use alcohol to self-medicate.

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We all cope in different ways. Mine was to become quiet and introspective. I still am. The central character of my book, WAITING FOR POPS, was modeled after me. The way he copes is interesting, and like our own individual ways of coping, it works for him.
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January 21, 2011 - 4:05pm

Great article, Rheyanne!
As a child of an alcoholic and co-dependant other parent, I can personally attest to many of the points brought up in your article. When I was in highschool, I was in an al-anon teen group, and read many self-help books on co-dependence, and toxic relationships. I was the wave-maker in my family. Yes, it was a tough road, and I couldn't wait to go away to college, hard as it was finding the money to do it, student loans got me through. I have had my own struggles (doesn't everyone?), but with hard work I finally found some semblance of security for myself. Self-awareness is key--know yourself, trust yourself, and always reach for a better you. As far as I know, my parent has been sober since 1992, but still has their own behavioral struggles.

January 21, 2011 - 8:36am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.