Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Substance abuse the family disease - Adult Children Of Alcoholics


There is quite a literature on Children of Alcoholics and Adult Children of Alcoholics and I do not want to review that literature here. If you are interested in it you can "google" it or go to Amazon and enter the key words and find all the books that are available on the topic. In this brief post I just want to mention a few observations that I have made over my 40 years of practice.

First, the most impressive observation is that ACOA's often have difficulty in knowing what's "normal". The come into my private counseling office with complaints about depression, anxiety, anger, perfectionism, relationship problems, work problems, parent/child problems, and they ask the simplest questions and usually end their story of distress by asking, "Is this normal?" The answer is "No!" and I used to be stunned that they didn't know and that they even have to ask. Then it dawned on me, how would they know? They grew up in dysfunction. There is no template, no model which they have personal experience with that they can compare their current experience with. ACOA's often have poor boundaries for this very reason, that they are filled with confusion since they are flying blind.

People in this situation need a trusted "other" whom they can bounce things off of to receive feedback about what is normal and what is not normal. It is a challenge for an ACOA to even ask for help because they have learned growing up in their dysfunctional families the "don't talk", "don't think", "don't feel", "don't ask" rules so common in alcoholic and drug addicted families.

While ACOAs have some deficits they also have many strengths. They can spot problems at 1,000 yards. They are very good at organizing order in crisis and chaos. They often are very caring, eager to please, and are very dedicated and loyal usually to a fault. ACOAs often go into human service, health care, criminal justice type work where they deal with problems and crises.

The effects of alcoholism on a family can go on for years and even generations. In the field of substance abuse services we pay lip service to this idea, but often focus only on the acute stages of the disease and overlook the longer term residual consequences. However, help is available in many places but the best place to start a search for assistance would be to look for a good trained family counselor.

This is article #2 in a series on substance abuse the family disease.

1 comment:

don zimmer said...

Great idea for a series. The figures you have are staggering regarding children of abusers. I am a ACOA.
I look forward to all your writings.