Typical Characteristics of Families of Alcoholics

In this blog I’ll be sharing the typical characteristics of families of alcoholics.
When we think about alcohol misuse, it isn’t just about the drinker but the family. This post is about the impact of someone’s drinking on the family members. It could be that you lived with a drinker as a child, are a parent of or partner to an alcoholic. 

Impact on families of alcoholics

As a child I only really remember the bad and had very few good memories of my Dad. Recently I’ve realised that he was a strict person but this mixed with alcohol, at times was scary.
Like any kid I wanted to play with my friends, go to their houses, explore and do fun things. It felt like this was always a battle with my Dad. Everything felt like hard work and was usually met with ‘No’.
At times it felt like I couldn’t have fun. I just wanted to be like other kids and be free. Be free to be a kid and not limited, well at least not to the degree that my Dad thought was reasonable. 

Fear, Disappointment and Uncertainty

When he was in the throws of his drinking, which did change over time. He became very unreliable, I remember expecting him to a family meal for my birthday and he just didn’t turn up. I couldn’t understand it and wondered what I’d done. It was always me, always something I’d done wrong or so I thought.
Fear and feeling unsafe in my home was very prevalent for me. Anticipating my Dad’s actions became ingrained in me.  Walking on Eggshells is a common term used in a home with addiction, mine was no different.  Waiting for him to come home with a sense of excitement but also apprehension. I was desperate for a positive welcome, a proud Dad that couldn’t wait to greet his child. That was just a picture in my mind and not of reality. 
Usually I was met with “I’ve only just got in the door Joanne, go away” or something along those lines.  
Talk about rejection, I was so hurt and didn’t know what to do. I had no control over the situation. Didn’t know how to respond, so I probably just ran away feeling very upset.  The problem was the ‘hope’ was still there, which really didn’t help me but I lived in hope that one day he’d react the way I’d dreamed of. 

My typical characteristics as a child of an alcoholic

It wasn’t until I’d done a lot of self-development and got some distance between myself and my past that I could see things more clearly. My Dad was no longer in my life as he passed away 2 months before my 21st birthday. 
The damage of living in an alcoholic home for me was pretty severe. I’d experienced disconnection, loneliness, feeling de-valued and unloved, physical and mental abuse and much more. 
Trying to make sense of things as a child is really hard, now I can see what happened and can only guess at my Dad’s reasons. Sadly, he isn’t here to find out why. It wouldn’t change anything but it would be good to understand what he was going through. 

Examples of how my Dad’s drinking affected my life

It’s probably helpful to share some examples of my experiences and give some context. 
In my late teens, early twenties my friendships became very difficult. I struggled to make and keep friends and usually said or did the wrong thing. I opened my mouth without thinking and didn’t really have much tact.  I had and to a degree still have black and white thinking, it was either right with my Dad or it wasn’t.
Because of my lack of love and affection as a child, I became very promiscuous and had a lot of one night stands and generally didn’t respect myself or my body. I craved the attention and I was lucky enough (that’s how I felt at the time) to get it.
My main challenges and characteristic flaws (as I saw it)
  • I had no boundaries and I let people mis-treat me
  • I feared people in authority
  • I had no idea what feelings were or how to express them
  • I kept everyone at arms length because I couldn’t trust people
  • I saw the world as Black and White
  • I became hyper-sensitive (which I still struggle with now) to my surroundings
  • I feel unsafe
  • I disliked the unknown as it didn’t feel safe
  • I experienced anxiety
  • I couldn’t cope with change very well
  • I attracted partners that mistreated me
This is just a few of the issues and this meant I needed a lot of support, although I didn’t realise it until years later. Those affected often kept things secret, try to bury the past and not face what’s happened. In my experience this rarely helps, now I work to raise awareness about the impact on families of addicts. I  focus on helping others to learn self-care, build self-esteem and confidence. 


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Next Steps

If you’d like to chat then do get in touch, I’m happy to gift you some time. Click here or email jo@johuey.co.uk or call (07732) 403305. 
Remember you aren’t alone and you can always join my Change Your Mind Facebook group, where other families of alcoholics support each other with challenges they experience from the past or present.  You may have lived with an alcoholic in your past, but it’s still impacting you in the present. 
I also run a podcast with my sister, click here to find out more. 

2 thoughts on “Typical Characteristics of Families of Alcoholics

  1. T wadena says:

    Very similar characteristics, i believe i have let go and grown once i recognized what has caused my insecurities, im not so naive that im completely healed, i still do all i can to be better , reading, commune, read and pray. But i was young when my dad quit drinking and recieved help. My sister grew to adulthood with an angry, distant, alcoholic and workaholic father. I have been trying to get her to see that her chaotic lifestyle is connected with her younger upbringing. She seeks attention for many men, she likes them all for a moment but then lets them treat her terrible and wont let the relationship go. She makes excuses. But juggles 5 different men on some level trying to find love n acceptance. It has involved her children and carry some or all of her characteristics. 2 are addicts, all 5 let themselves get treated poorly or abused. My sister does not drink or do drugs, but she works all the time or chasing men to the point of not acknowledging her children and grandchildren. They all live in her home she supports everyone and enables them in everything but does not help them. Her grandaughter now has seen her with several different men. Im beside myself thinking of what shes doing to herself and family. I know i cant fix her. But i can try find her some readings advice, help and pray… I drank some in my young years but after i was married at 27 and had my own children i choose to let alcohol go. I then noticed my sosters life more. My mother never drank and she pushed us to be better than how we grew up. I have 5 other siblings and we all drank at some point but none drink now. We all worked alot, not healthy. We all have large families and i see some characteristics in our kids that we did not overcome, but my sister struggles the most. Our lives are total opposite and she wonders why life is so hard she doesnt see or wont see she can change it if she tries. I read all i can to try continue to get better but its almost like she doesnt believe shes contributing to her problems, because she doesnt drink, do drugs or smoke. She doesnt see herself as an enabler, has low self esteem, or trys to fix everyone to the point of being exhausted, to exhausted to look at herself. Its like something doesnt connect. She talk a good talk but no follow through. Im just hoping theres some advice i can get on getting her help or insight to her issues. Shes 54, shes not young anymore. She may have a chance to help her kids if she can gind help.

    • johuey says:

      Hi ya, thanks so much for sharing so honestly. I hear you and this is so hard to watch when someone we love lives a life we think isn’t good for them. Do you think it’s possible for you to recognise something you don’t think is a problem? No one can I don’t think. When she sees the consequences and when she is ready, she may do something about it. If she is open to speaking to someone ,then that is a great start, but until then, you can’t force her and you’ll only end up doing it with her resentment and anger potentially. Safeguarding children is always important of course, so that is a priority. How does this affect your life, worry? overthinking? Sometimes we don’t realise how much of our time it can consume.

      The thing is when we love and care for someone, we want to help. It’s natural. I find asking questions helps, because the person has to go into their own mind and think about it and process it. May be things like, what is it you like about having attention from men? what does it give you? Do you think you could get that attention from somewhere else? or do you know what being treated well looks and feels like? What do you think that would look/feel like? What do you think makes these men mistreat you? Do you find it hard to say no/say what you think? Are you scared of the consequences. Obviously I’m just giving ideas, you’ll know what’s most relevant to your sister.

      Well done on your own self-development, it’s a journey and those that invest are on it for life. Always learning and improving. Take care, feel free to join my daughters of alcoholics group if you need the support. Jo x

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