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Anyone who grows up with an alcoholic parent experiences repercussions, but those repercussions vary based on the child’s gender. Studies show that female children tend to experience more negative consequences when raised by someone with alcohol use disorder (AUD), also known as alcoholism.
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Both sons and daughters have a higher risk of developing AUD as they reach adolescence and adulthood, but females tend to have a higher risk of developing mania or a personality disorder later in life.
The effects of exposure to a parent with alcoholism for daughters also vary based on whether it is the father or mother with AUD. Women with alcoholic fathers have a higher risk of becoming alcoholics than they do if their mother has the disorder. But when a woman’s mother is an alcoholic, she has a higher risk of other mental health issues, including substance use issues of her own.
Ultimately, every individual is different and alcoholic families are different. However, if you are the daughter of an alcoholic, it’s important to be aware of certain risks you face and to learn what to do to reduce those risks.
Children raised by alcoholics have a higher risk of developing alcoholism themselves. One study showed that women with alcoholic fathers have a higher risk of developing AUD later in life than women with alcoholic mothers. But the same study showed that women with alcoholic mothers are at risk of:
According to the study, daughters of alcoholic mothers have the highest risk of developing mental health issues as teens and adults.
Children are resilient and many can bounce back after exposure to trauma early in their lives. However, growing up with an alcoholic parent is one of the most difficult challenges to overcome.
An adult child of an alcoholic never “outgrows” the effects of their parent’s disorder. This isn’t to say they cannot go on to live a happy and fulfilling life, regardless of whether they develop struggles with alcohol use. Many children of alcoholics have lives that bring them a great deal of joy. But children of alcoholic parents never know what it’s like to grow up in a non-alcoholic home.
For example, children of alcoholics tend to feel as though they never had a childhood of their own. They never experienced the carefree and safe feelings most people remember from when they were children. They lived in chaotic, frightening, and unpredictable environments, and often had to take the role of the adult in their families.
They might have assumed their circumstances were normal, but once they are adults, they realize how they grew up was far from normal. They lacked most of the things children receive from family members growing up, including:
This is a difficult realization for many children of alcoholics and many struggle to make sense of their early lives and why their parents did what they did.
Many daughters of alcoholics also grow up believing they did something to cause their parent’s substance use disorder. This is never true, but even if a child grows into an adult who understands this, many still struggle with guilt and shame.
Many support groups offer an opportunity for daughters of alcoholics to interact with their peers and get guidance from addiction and family therapy experts. For example:
This 12-step program offers children with alcoholic parents a chance to recover and heal from their abuse and neglect in childhood. ACA’s philosophy is that childhood trauma doesn’t go away with time and distance from a parent. Healing requires connecting with others and working through the 12 steps.
Families Anonymous is a 12-step program for people in families or who have loved ones with alcohol or drug addiction. The program’s focus is to help those affected by a loved one’s alcoholism or drug addiction heal and grow using the 12 steps.
This group is for people who care about an alcoholic or drug-addicted person and want to develop healthy relationships with themselves and others in their lives. Codependency is one of the greatest challenges faced by people who care about someone with addiction.
Many members of Codependents Anonymous grew up with alcoholic addicted parents. They no longer want their loved one’s addiction to control their lives and they want to form happy and healthy bonds with other people.
Al-Anon is a 12-step program founded by the people who founded Alcoholics Anonymous. It exists to help those with an alcoholic loved one who want to set healthy boundaries, no longer enable their loved one’s addiction, and want to prioritize their well-being. Members of Al-Anon focus on creating a joyful and serene life without trying to save their addicted loved one.
Al-Ateen is much like Al-Anon but is for younger people who care about someone with an addiction. Most of the people who attend Al-Ateen meetings have a parent with AUD, but the group is open to anyone who cares about an addicted person.
Nar-Anon and Nar-Ateen are also similar to Al-Anon but are for people who have been hurt by someone they care about who abuses narcotics.
Helping an alcoholic parent recover is both challenging and rewarding. If the daughter of an alcoholic parent chooses to help her mother or father seek treatment, there are many options available. For example:
Outpatient treatment provides support and guidance, while allowing a parent to tend to his or her other responsibilities and obligations.
Inpatient treatment that provides round-the-clock support and medical supervision.
Seeking alcoholism treatment is an important step in recovery. Most people experience long-term benefits from peer support and medical guidance that are an important part of reputable treatment programs.
It’s also important for loved ones to be patient with someone who has recently entered recovery and give them a chance to work their program. Participating in support programs such as Al-Anon and individual therapy is a great way to create a supportive and healing environment for families with alcohol use disorder.
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Giunta, C. T., and B. E. Compas. “Adult Daughters of Alcoholics: Are They Unique?” Journal of Studies on Alcohol, vol. 55, no. 5, 1 Sept. 1994, pp. 600–606, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7990470/, 10.15288/jsa.1994.55.600.
“Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).” Nih.Gov, 2017, www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/treatment-alcohol-problems-finding-and-getting-help.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Principles of Effective Treatment.” Drugabuse.Gov, 2018, www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/principles-effective-treatment.