adult children

of alcoholics

Sound Familiar?

Rhonda was the oldest of 3 sisters and had always born the brunt of her mother’s alcoholism and rage. When her mom wasn’t drinking she was the kindest, sweetest person, but when she did drink things became violent and scary. Rhonda spent the majority of her childhood and adolescence protecting her two younger sisters from her mother’s alcoholic rages. When her mother would get drunk she would berate Rhonda and tell her that she was “worthless and that no one would ever love her.” Rhonda moved out when she was 18 and has been on her own ever since. Rhonda’s sisters barely speak to her and blame her for leaving them, which causes Rhonda sever guilt. She also struggles to see her worth and ends up dating men that treat her poorly and validate her fear that she isn’t lovable. Rhonda desperately wants a healthy relationship and to move past her childhood, but feels stuck in a cycle of abandonment, shame, and guilt as that is all she knew growing up.

Tony’s dad, Frank, was rarely around and never showed up to any of his sports events or school plays. When his dad was around he usually sat in front of the television and drank beer until he would pass out in the recliner. His mother always seemed to be afraid of Frank and in addition to her job as a bus driver for the school she seemed to also have a full-time job of managing Frank’s anger and mishaps. Frank worked for an auto repair shop, but frequently was too hung over to make it to work on time. Tony frequently witnessed his mother calling the auto repair shop and would cover for Frank by saying he was sick. Tony remembers on several occasions having to take cold showers or not being able to use the stove because their bills hadn’t been paid on time due to Frank’s unreliability. Even though his dad died several years ago Tony still lives in the shadows of feeling fearful and like there is never enough. Tony swore to himself that he would never touch alcohol after seeing how it impacted his father, however he struggles greatly with binge eating whenever things in his life are stressful.

Tricia has wanted to get married and have kids for as long as she can remember. She holds a steady job as a manager at a local restaurant and has been on every online dating site imaginable. However, no matter what she seems to do, she always ends up dating men that aren’t available or that leave her feeling abandoned. She struggles deeply with a constant sense of loneliness and inadequacy. Recently, in a conversation with her brother about her love life she began to connect the dots. “You know you’re just playing out your Daddy issues in every guy you date,” her brother offered. Tricia didn’t want to believe this, but as she looked back on her childhood she realized that her father was never around, was always drunk, and often threw rude slurs at her when he was home about how she needed to lose weight or change her hair if anyone was going to ever find her pretty enough to date.

Growing up as a Child of an Alcoholic

San Diego Adult Children of Alcoholics, despite the deep sense of isolation they experience, often find that they have many things in common with other people. Here are some of the most common experiences adult children of alcoholics in San Diego report:

  • Being the adult, even as a child – Adult children of alcoholics often report having to care for their parent as well managing the repercussions of living under an alcoholic caregiver
  • Feeling victimized – It is not uncommon for people who grew up being “cared for” by an adult struggling with alcoholism to report feeling an intense sense of fear, insecurity, self-pity, and hopelessness
  • Anger and resentment – Whether it was due to financial insecurity, unreliability, experiencing neglect or abuse, adult children of alcoholics may find that they feel angry toward their parents for not having a better childhood
  • Role confusion – Many times, especially for the oldest child in the family, there was serious role confusion regarding who was responsible for what. Children of adult alcoholics in San Diego might have felt as though they were the primary caregivers or protectors of either themselves and/or younger siblings.

If you experience any of the above feelings, know this: you are normal, if by normal we mean that the things you are going through in this way are an understandable outgrowth of your history.  However, “normal” does not = healthy.  It is important to seek out additional support because there can be long lasting issues if you allow these difficulties to go unaddressed. Some red flags or long lasting issues to look for include:

  • Low self-esteem no matter what outward successes you achieve
  • Not ever feeling a sense of “normal” or always feeling “other”
  • Difficulty building or sustaining relationships that are healthy and fulfilling, be that with friends, partners, or family
  • Desperate need for approval or a need to prove yourself
  • Feeling like you have to be perfect or to enforcer rules rigidly in order to “feel safe”
  • Intense self-criticism or being judgmental toward yourself or others

There is help.  And hope!

No matter how long you’ve struggled or been suffering, there is help for you. You can reach out today for support from a highly skilled therapist in Del Mar, San Diego to help you experience relief. In the meantime, here are some ways you can support yourself or a friend who is an adult child of an alcoholic.


  1. Education is key! It is important to get clear information about the signs and impact of being an adult child of an alcoholic. There are classes, books, and therapists that can help you understand what you are experiencing and how to move forward.  Two books we would recommend are The ACOA Trauma Syndrome and The Big Red Book of Al-Anon.
  2. The Big Key: Finding someone you trust to support you. The most challenging piece of the alcoholism is how it creates a framework of distrust in relationships. Therefore, the pain needs to be healed inside a new, trusting, safe relationship. It may be useful to start with a therapist who is highly skilled in creating a safe and therapeutic space and to begin building other relationships from there, but many people also find that it may take a safe friend, teacher, coach, or colleague as well.
  3. Hone your strengths. You are most likely successful in other areas of your life. Even the fact that you are reading this page, looking for help, and open to changing your patterns is a sign of great strength. Learning to communicate better, take constructive criticism, and increase your trust in yourself and others are other strengths you can hone to find more peace and healing.
  4. Become involved In a support group. Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA), Al-Anon, and Celebrate Recovery (Christian Recovery Groups) are all great options for connecting with others who have experienced something similar to you.

Need some guidance with all of these?  We can help!

At Juxta, California counseling, we are aren’t just expert counselors – we’re people too, which means you can expect us to be genuinely interested in you, your story, and your life.  We want to get to know the real you.  In our work together, honesty with yourself and us comes to characterize the entire healing endeavor. Thus, our relationship itself — that is the work.


There’s nothing else you need to do to prepare.  There’s no reason to wait any longer.

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