Am I an ACOA (Adult Child of an Alcoholic) if my parent didn’t start drinking until he/she was older?
It’s a question I get asked on a regular basis so I figured it was time I answered.
So often when we think about Adult Children of Alcoholics, we assume a scenario with a kid who grew up with an alcoholic parent.
But there’s a whole other group of people walking among us, living adult lives with a parent whose drinking started much later in life.
These people can be professionals, married with children and they may even live miles away but they’ve become mentally, emotionally and sometimes financially consumed by a parent who’s drinking has become unmanageable.
These adult children get the drunk phone calls and they pick up the pieces when their parent is too hungover to get to work. They feel hopeless, guilty and conflicted over how involved they should be. And they worry, at the expense of their own sanity, about the end of their parent’s life. That if the worst possible scenario should ever happen, could they have done something to prevent it?
Bottom line is this – regardless of age these people are Adult Children of Alcoholics too. And they need support, guidance and understanding just like the rest of us.
If this sounds like you, this post is one you don’t want to miss.
Understanding the impact that your parent’s drinking has had on your life and your relationship begins with awareness and understanding the basics of the alcoholic family system.
Today you’ll learn 3 of the most common characteristics of the alcoholic family. These ring true whether you were 4 or 40 years old when your parent’s drinking became an issue.
Having a clear awareness of these characteristics may give you the perspective and space you need to see where you end and your parent begins.
Once you’re finished reading I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
As an adult with a parent who started drinking later in life, what do you struggle with the most? What do you find most challenging about having a parent with a drinking issue? Any other issue or idea not covered here that you’d like to share?
Of course, share only what you’re comfortable sharing.
Remember your voice, experiences and insights are vital to this community. And what you have to share is not only unique but it may be exactly what someone else needs to read. And that someone could be you.
Thanks for reading and sharing!
Until Next Tuesday,
P.S. A recent article in The New York Times recognizes that alcohol abuse among older adults is on the rise. I thought you might want to check it out. If so, click here.
P.P.S. If you know someone that’s struggling to care for an older alcoholic parent, share this one with them. It may be exactly what they need to see that they’re not alone.
Characteristic #1 – Your Parent Is The Star Of The Show
One of the most surprising things I’ve learned about the alcoholic family system was how organized it is despite the seemingly never ending supply of chaos and confusion.
There are many parts to this system, the most important being the alcoholic.
Every rule that’s made, every promise that’s broken and every excuse revolves around the alcoholic.
They become the star of the show and the rest of the family, perhaps unknowingly at first, takes on a supporting role.
Now, when I say support, I don’t mean it as if the family is intentionally supporting or encouraging the alcoholic’s drinking and resulting behavior. But what we do is we cover, comply and surrender to the alcoholic in a genuine effort to protect him or her and to make the situation more manageable for ourselves.
This is something to keep in mind especially if you’re an adult with a family of your own. Honestly ask yourself if your alcoholic parent has become the star of the show. Even if you don’t live with or near them, their behavior, needs and wants could be taking over your life.
Remember, all we’re doing here is cultivating awareness of the ways in which our focus has changed or our lives have been negatively altered as a result of an alcoholic parent.
Characteristic #2 – The Role Swap
As a young kid, I took care of my mom when she was too drunk to take care of herself. I poured beer out of the can when she wasn’t looking, I’d make her coffee at 1am because I thought it would sober her up and I put her to bed after she passed out.
Clearly there was a role swap that happened between me and my mom. I became the adult and she the child when chronologically that shouldn’t have been the case.
As an adult with an older parent, this role swapping scenario can still happen. For example, you may be the one who has to pick your parent up from the bar at 2am so they don’t drive home drunk. You may be the one who rushes over in the morning with hot tea and Advil to soothe their hangover. You could also be the one who supports them financially if they can’t work for whatever reason.
The bottom line is that somewhere along the way you assumed responsibility for the parts of their life they could no longer manage. On one hand, you may resent that parent because you’re constantly having to rush in and rescue them but on the other, you may feel horribly conflicted over not wanting to.
There’s nothing wrong with supporting or carrying some extra weight for a family member. But if and when they start to take advantage of that and manipulate to get you to comply, well, that’s a problem.
There’s a difference between someone who is actively seeking help, doing all they can with what they have, where they are versus someone who knows in the end they can get away without making an effort and you’ll still show up with Advil in the morning.
Characteristic #3 – Denial Is King
Denial is the superglue that holds the alcoholic family together. The alcoholic is in denial of their drinking and family and friends are in denial that there life has been turned upside down as a result.
That’s why when someone within the family system finally wakes up and sees all the dysfunction, they are often harshly criticized by the rest of the family. And as a result that person who finally woke up will both doubt and feel guilty for what they’ve discovered.
Denial is a defense mechanism. Denial brings order to dysfunction. It keeps the alcoholic from having to face the truth about whatever it is in their life that triggered the drinking in the first place. And it saves family members and friends from having to deal with the discomfort of the truth.
Is it a good thing or bad thing? I don’t know the answer to that. I think for human beings it’s a natural way to avoid pain or to something that we know will cause pain.
But again, the point of bringing it up here is so that you can see it. Ask yourself if you’ve been in denial over a parent’s drinking. Have you been denying just how deeply their drinking has impacted your life and destroyed theirs?
Are you afraid of what might happen if you dared to sit with the truth?
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