Advanced search

Mumsnet has not checked the qualifications of anyone posting here. If you need help urgently, please see our domestic violence webguide and/or relationships webguide, which can point you to expert advice and support.

Adult Children of Alcoholic Parents

(124 Posts)
hogmanure Fri 28-Dec-12 14:01:14

I had an alcoholic mother who steadily drank herself into oblivion over 30 years. I did not suffer any abuse and actually had a very happy early childhood provided by my very forward thinking generous parents who also provided me with a good education and nice home.
Thing started to become difficult in my preteen and teenage years with lots of secret drinking by my mother going on with bottles hidden around the house, daytime naps and lots of drinks parties. My mum didn't have any particular mental health issues but just drank to excess and carried on. and on. and on.
No one spoke about it. No one went to the GP about it.
Later on when I was in my 20s she drank more and more losing her memory and her health. I tackled her about it several times and she said she would try to stop, but wouldn't go to the GP or detox or go to counselling.
As we were all wondering if she had cancer and what to do my father collapsed and had a cardiac arrest at home while my mum was busy drinking in the utility room.
Passers by tried to revive him and called an ambulance but he could not be resuscitated and died at the hospital that day.
Following this my mum went on a huge grief driven binge and had to be hospitalised although she kept self discharging or refused to let people in the house and eventually she was put under section for treatment... sadly although she survived she had extensive brain damage by now due to the alcohol and has never recovered.

This is just my story. Everyone with an alcoholic parent will have their own story and history, but some things we may all have in common.
There are difficulties that Adult children tend to have... not necessarily all of the ones described by NACOA. In my case I mainly lack social confidence and feel empty and lonely sometimes. However I think therapy might help me and I intend to look into this
I'd like to hear from anyone in a similar position so we can have a space to express ourselves.
There are particular issues many children of alcoholics face ... the deceit, the lies, the knowledge something isn't right, the selfishness of addiction, the choice of alcohol over loved ones and children, the grandiose gestures and false laughter, the smell of alcohol in the morning, the dirty dishes, the stubborn insistence of drinking despite everything, the safety / fire issues, the lack of security, the haphazard driving, the shame, the inability to put something right that can't be fixed as it is a choice and coming to terms with that.

[I would prefer it if those ACOA who are themselves addicted do not join this thread as I have too much anger inside me to tolerate and help alcoholics [sorry]]

belagh Sat 02-Mar-13 19:20:33

Manchester... I have been thinking about going but I don't know how useful it would be now

belagh Sat 02-Mar-13 19:21:30

Manchester... I have been thinking about going but I don't know how useful it would be now

appletarts Sat 02-Mar-13 20:16:57

My father is an alcoholic. I have had 15 years worth of psychotherapy and my life is functioning and mostly happy. If I hadn't had the therapy I wouldn't have got married, finished anything, had friends, had babies...the list goes on. I know therapy saved me and transformed my life or should I say I saved me and transformed my life. I have been determined to make my life different and it is. I find my siblings almost unbearable because they are still so hooked into the dance of it all. My mum is the typical wife of an alcoholic and is full to the brim with denial and manipulations and my dad clings onto life in a home. I too wish he were dead and have done since I was about 11 years old. I used to feel bad saying that until I realised how hurt I must have been to wish that, I can now say it and not feel guilty. I have my family in my life but with very firm boundaries and I would really prefer to never see any of them again but somehow I feel I have to be in touch. Thanks for starting this post. x

Happynewlife2013 Sun 03-Mar-13 12:36:31

I've just stumbled across this thread and felt compelled to comment. I am the adult child of alcoholic parents and have recently joined al anon as it was literally driving me mad. It's early days but does seem to be helping a lot showing how to look at alcoholism in a different way.

I'm consumed by guilt about my parents alcoholism although it wasn't our fault, having children was something they couldn't cope with. My mother died years ago in horrifying circumstances whilst my father was passed out drunk and the sadness thing is had she tried to call us, no one would have answered the phone assuming she was calling for her usual drunk talk. Although I saw my mother regularly, I stopped answering the phone to her years before she died and feel so guilty about this.

For me, al anon is a way of coping with this horrible illness and finding a way to support my alcoholic father as he drinks himself to death because there is nothing I can do to change it- I can only change the way I react to his illness. When he is abusive to me, I now understand it is not him talking- it's the alcoholic talking and they are very different things. My alcoholic parents often do/did hate me however I have no doubt from the occassional glimpses that the sober parents did/ do love me even if they rarely show it.

Good luck to you all, looking after yourselves and your mental well being xx

Happynewlife2013 Sun 03-Mar-13 12:39:22

Belaugh, I am finding it helpful. Just as much in relation to my mother who has passed away. There's no harm in trying it to see if it helps you. Everyone goes there with a common cause and the support you feel is immense.

AndTheBandPlayedOn Wed 20-Mar-13 00:57:46

I have just read the thread, and thank you for starting it, Hogmanyay, and to everyone who has taken time to post.

My mother was a bipolar alcoholic, df in denial, and deaf so not much spontaneous conversation from him anyway. Up until 5 or 6 years ago (ahem, coincidentally when I found MN and the Stately Homes folks wink ), I had thought I had had a good childhood. Swim team, horses, martial arts lessons, and a job lifeguarding kept me out of the house most of the time. But these activities, mainly sports-all not associated with school-were a form of self-therapy that may have mitigated the damage to the degree that I can now objectively assess my own behavior and hold myself accountable, iyswim. One sister can not.

I am 51, been married 23 years and have 3 children.
I do not drink, nor does my dh. I might have an Irish Coffee on Christmas, but that is it. But I know the feeling-like a surge of adrenaline washing through my body-I know why people drink.

Mother died suddenly when I was 18 of heart failure, although the death certificate listed manic depressive. I was so emotionally numb, I cried for the 5 min my df cried the day it happened and that was pretty much it.

Many of the behaviors shared here ring bells for me.
Lack of personal confidence (even with horses & martial arts!) made my chosen profession impossible. I was toast in office politics. Gave it up to be a sahm in a heart beat.
I am ok with solitude...I can convince myself it is a good thing...but I do get lonely. Identifying feelings is a feel nothing. Cry, and I cry alone. (Perhaps Dr. Spock is to be blamed for that one-he can rot in the hot place.)

Growing up I learned to be silent or be shamed/ I learned to want very little if anything at all. In never giving an opinion, it came to be that I wouldn't bother having one-so expressing myself is an issue. My brain scatters when I try to anticipate how my words will be misunderstood and attempt to speak to each possibility at once. Counselling is helping.

The delayed reactions mentioned is me too.

How are you at returning things to a store? I can do it now, but for years I wouldn't dare.
Sorry these thoughts are so scattered.
I will order the Big Red Book. Thanks, JuliaScurr, for sharing that link.

Llareggub Wed 20-Mar-13 01:07:17

I don't really belong here, but wondered if I could pick your collective brains? My exH is an alcoholic and is pretty bad. He attempts suicide on a regular basis. A year ago I left him and now I am on my own with our two children, who are 6 and 3. I am interested in knowing how I can best protect my children from the effects of his alcoholism. Currently, he has no contact with them, mainly because I moved a significant distance away but also partly because he does not attempt any telephone contact.

As the adult children of alcoholic parents, what is the best advice you can give from your perspective? Any advice welcome!

Pilgit Wed 20-Mar-13 14:08:33

i miss the dad i should have had. When we were growing up he wasn't an excessive drinker - well not by the standards of city lawyers anyway! But he was always a happy drunk so it was ok. Then he started having an affair with a drinker and it all spiralled from there. The paranoia, the memory loss, the aggression, the teeth. He used to care about his appearance (total peacock) he now gets mistaken for a tramp. He used to be house proud, his house is now worse than an episode of a life of grime (15+cats will do that). He won't stop - DC in care temporarily changed him for a bit but when DC came back it slid again. I could go on

goodenuffmum Sun 24-Mar-13 15:53:10

Al Anon was set up to support the family and friends of alcoholics. You think you werent affected by your exH's drinking but you would be suprised.

The fact that you posted asking for advice tells me that your dc will be fine smile
If you would like some reading matter why don't you give your local Al Anon office a call. They can recommend some reading and if your ex is still drinking when your dc are older there is a group for them called Al Ateen which will help them.

The biggest thing for me was the secrecy. I was never told that I couldnt talk about the drinking and the craziness that goes with it...I just knew.

I learned not to trust my feelings becuase I could see they were drunk but would be told not to "be silly" etc etc. hmm

I wish someone had saved me from that madness (which you have done for your dc). I wish someone had explained that it is an illness and that I had had someone who I could talk to about it.

It is ok to put safety plans in place so that the dc know the signs which mean that contact will not take place, but will be rearranged for when D hasnt been drinking.

Stay matter of fact. Al Anon explained it to me in terms of an illness like diabetes (Im struggling with that btw) : you wouldnt leave your kids with their D if he was experiencing a hypo incident so its the same when a drinker is drinking.

The important message is the 3 c's: that you did not cause it, you cant control it and you cant cure it. Keep telling your dc that there is NO connection between them and D's drinking.

Good luck x

appletarts Sun 24-Mar-13 17:00:48

Llareggub my advice would be no contact. None. Ever. Unless serious progress with recovery and then for an hour in cafe supervised. I wish my mother had left my father and kept him away from us. An alcoholic father in my opinion is far worse than no father at all. They won't thank you for contact when older if it is disturbing, which it will be because he is seriously ill. Protect your children. My mother was a selfish facilitator who didn't protect us.

madonnawhore Sun 24-Mar-13 17:16:51

Wow only just stumbled on this thread.

I could've written most of your posts myself. I too had a very nice childhood and it was only when I was about 10 that mum started drinking and everything went tits up.

She died 5 years ago, by which time I was 27. While it wouldn't be true to say those 17 years of dealing with the shame, guilt, denial, disgust, anger and helplessness ruined my life, they changed the course of it irrevocably.

I really know what some posters mean when they talk of a feeling of loneliness and sadness that never goes away. Even though I have a great life now, filled with love and great friends, partner, etc, I still feel terribly sad about the whole thing with mum. And angry. I'm worried it's made me sightly bitter and has given a mean, defensive edge to my character that can hurt others sometimes. I don't like this about myself but can't see it ever changing. Because I'll never get over my own hurt IYSWIM?

I've achieved a lot in my life. Been quite a high achiever, good career, etc. But I will never, ever feel good enough. The damage that an alcoholic parent can do to your self esteem is irreparable I think.

JuliaScurr Sun 24-Mar-13 17:36:35

I've been to Al-anon. IMO it's nowhere near as good as NACOA, because it serves a different group. Our chances of continuing ongoing recovery are pretty good once we're out of the original situation with a bit of perspective on it.

Lovely but also painful to hear you all here. Every thing each of us says seems to me to speak for us all, even if superficially different

Keep coming back; it works if you work it (as they say)
Apparently! - I never did it long enough with enough focus and dedication.

I feel guilty and sad for letting down that little girl I was, with so many dreams. It's up to me to help her make them come true and it makes me feel so tired. Anyone else escape through sleep? Resent non-alcoholic parent sleeping through the chaos? Reading? Something else?

EarthtoMajorTom Sun 24-Mar-13 21:57:36

I've been going to Al-Anon for a few years now. DF died of alcoholism; DH is in recovery. I'd recommend Al-Anon... you don't have to 'get' the whole program right away to benefit from the meetings. Simply being in a room with people who know what you've gone through is a massive boost to your self-esteem and sanity. They understand the craziness, the sadness and the difficulty involved in living with alcoholism.

goodenuffmum Mon 25-Mar-13 23:37:43

Me too EarthtoMajorTom

The AlAnon meeting was the first place I had ever said "My parents are alcoholics" out loud.

I was still ashamed of admitting it...but, when I looked around people were smiling and nodding at me. I left that meeting feeling loads lighter.

I've been going for 4 months now and still a newbie but I always take at least 1 helpful thing away from a meeting.

We dont seem to have a NACOA near us sad

Grinkly Tue 26-Mar-13 02:14:57

NACOA meetings are very thin on the ground in the UK.
I spose it's up to us to set them up and keep them going. It's such a big commitment though.

I always think talking about it is the best thing for children of acloholics, even if the info isn't good. We never talked about it ever in my childhood home.

MrRected Tue 26-Mar-13 03:09:29

I now understand why I am so controlling, never feel like I fit in anywhere, never open up totally, always trying to sort out everyones life and such a damn perfectionist

This could be me too! At 38 years of age I still have trouble openly admitting my mother was an alcoholic. Here is my story:

In my very early years, my mother and father drank heavily, mostly on weekends. It often resulted in terrifying rows and my father hitting my mother. Things usually resolved after my mother spent a few days in isolation in her bedroom. Everything was swept under the carpet.

The more this happened, the worse their marriage became, the more my mother drank. She was an angry, angry drunk, who had no ability to think of anybody but herself. She would start drinking, then become hostile, then pick a fight with whomever was nearest, then it would descend into all sorts of horrendous events. She would listen to music at top volume till the early hours of the morning on school nights. To this day, my DH cannot understand why I cannot listen to any sort of music near bed time.

My mother tried to commit suicide - I was forced to slap her face and keep her awake whilst my father called an ambulance. After release from hospital she left my father and made my life a living hell. I was 10 years old. They got back together and it was ok for a few years. Then it all started again.

My mother had some sort of breakdown, was sent to a mental instituation and when released left my father again - this time I was 13 years old. I elected to stay with my father. It was horrendous.

They got back together and for a few years it was ok. My mother was drinking every day but would, for the most part just pass out each night. By this point, they were fully co-dependent, my father being a bit older was a little more mellow and stopped hitting my mother.

My mother continued to drink though. She tried to commit suicide again, when I was 27 years old. In her note, she didn't mention me or my brother, she just asked whomever found the note to care for her little dog. She very nearly succeeded but the medical team managed to revive her. After spending 3 weeks in hospital - and us having to make a mercy dash in the middle of the night to see her attached to a ventilator and a thousand wires in an ICU, she was released and guess what? She left my father again.

At this point, I couldn't take anymore and started distancing myself. I didn't speak to my parents for years. To this day I don't speak to my Dad. I blame him. He hit her and made her worse. He hit me and was cruel to me.

My mother cannot go day without drinking a bottle of wine. The older she becomes, the less she needs to hit the spot. The great shame, is that when she's sober she's absolutely lovely. I grieve for her and for my life. I cry at night because I so wish I could have had a normal childhood.

This thread is one of the first times I have ever said it out loud.

MrRected Tue 26-Mar-13 11:28:17

Sorry if m last post was a bit too depressing.

EarthtoMajorTom Tue 26-Mar-13 12:49:10

MrRected no need to apologise. It is what it is.

june2013 Tue 26-Mar-13 15:23:19

My dad is an alcoholic, functioning, but still drinks.

My post should be short because you all describe what my childhood was like. My mum moved us abroad one day very suddenly and my dad didn't know where we were for ages. He doesn't recognise he is an alcoholic, so believes he is the victim of my mum's decisions. While I can understand that loosing us that way must have been horrendous for him, I can see that my mum didn't feel she had a choice. And I feel like I escaped a far worse childhood than I actually had...

Anyway, I went to therapy for years from the age of about 12 but never felt I made any progress until I went to Al-Anon. It can become a bit cultish for some people, but I benefited a lot without feeling that it became an addiction in itself. It is based on the twelve steps so there's a lot of talk of spirituality but as an agnostic, I didn't find it difficult to reflect on spirituality and higher powers. In fact, I owe my happy life and good relationship with my father to my 2 years in al-anon. I am happily married and I've sorted through most of my crap. Mostly I am able to talk openly to my husband and others about what I want, set boundaries, love without conditions, etc. I have moved from London where my local (amazing) al-anon group was and often thinking of checking out the one where I am now, just for a refresher.

Llareggub al-anon also run alateen for those who are still children and young people...

Good luck everyone & thanks for starting the post!

Oopla Tue 26-Mar-13 18:42:37

Hi everyone, lots of your posts resonating with me. Thankyou for sharing, I'll be back later when kids in bed x

Hugglepuff Tue 26-Mar-13 19:57:39

Hi. Just found this post. My DM had alcohol problems ( still struggle to call it alcoholic, cos she sort of functioned ) throughout my teens and twenties. Guess I am lucky that she now has it under control - but I still get nervous around social gatherings where my MIL ( who does not know the background ) finds it hilarious to get my DM to drink "just another " glass . Still remember the half empty whiskey bottles behind the towel rack and holding her head over the toilet. I have never drunk because I have been too nervous about the consequences. Really grateful that my DM seems to have come through it relatively ok - although that drunk elephant in the corner is never mentioned or acknowledged by my parents.

bigTillyMint Tue 26-Mar-13 20:44:40

Just found this thread too. What a lot of sad stories. I feel like I was quite lucky compared to many of you. And so interesting to hear that so many of you feel ashamed - I felt like that until I met someone whose mother was an alcoholic and then I realised that it was a much more common problem than I had thought. My mother was so shamed and hurt by it all that she wouldn't/still won't talk about that period of her life at all. Which means that much of my childhood is pretty much erased from her memory.

My father was an alcoholic. Probably all his adult life, but he was a pretty much functioning alcoholic to the outside world, even close friends. He was not physically abusive, though I do remember rows and beligerence and he was probably quite emotionally abusive to my mother, but I just saw her as very weak and foolish. As a small child, I adored him - he was affectionate and fun and gregarious. As I got older, I began to realise (and his drinking/drunkenness got worse) what was going on and I begged him to stop/looked for and poured bottles of whiskey away/began to hate him for loving the alcohol more than me.

I also couldn't understand why my mother didn't divorce him. She eventually did, when I was about 10. I decided I didn't want to see him again as it was too painful for me to see the dad I idolised develop into a dishevelled waste of talent. I didn't even go to his funeral (aged 30)

Oopla Tue 26-Mar-13 23:29:42

andthebandplayedon my heart skipped when I read what you wrote about your brain scattering trying to anticipate what words would be misunderstood. I do that too, but actually have never realised that's what it was.

Remember being utterly amazed to find out that other people's parents didn't go out all weekend every weekend. Mum has never been a hiding bottles in the house type of drinker, she was more of a 'get dolled up and go shag some random strangers' type of drinker hmm

applefalls Wed 27-Mar-13 07:56:51

The great shame, is that when [they are] sober she's absolutely lovely. I grieve for her and for my life. I cry at night because I so wish I could have had a normal childhood.


And, like Oopla, amazed the first time I went to supper at a friend's house and her parents drank water, got up from the table and watched TV, chatted to us then went to bed.

Sadly, at that time I thought it made them dull; after years of therapy and becoming teetotal myself, I hope that my own DCs will feel that same sense of (boring? Safe?) ordinariness as I potter about doing dishes and chatting in the evening, not roaring and opening more bottles and picking obscure emotional and nasty fights because I am wankered and a drunken arsehole.

Thanks OP for a great and brave thread. I hope those who do have a drink problem read it.

Did anyone else here drink stupidly as a result? My sister never touched a drop, I'm a reformed pisshead, my brother shakes and stinks of booze but I never see him with a drink.

With a therapist's help, I forbad my parents to drink when my kids were there. It worked and has been so liberating from all that destructive worry. They rarely drink now. But the damage is done, deep and long-lasting.

Forgiveness seems beyond me most days.

bigTillyMint Wed 27-Mar-13 08:05:56

applefalls, yes I have gone through that process of realising how far from happy and normal my childhood was and how happy I am that my own DC have had a totally different experience. I feel so sad for the child/teen that I was. I spent most of my childhood at my friend's house trying to be part of a normal family.

And I drank very heavily in my teens/twenties, but now drink much less than all of my friends!

Join the discussion

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now