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Growing Up with an Alcoholic Parent: Shit You Wish You Could Have Talked About

Because AA for kids was a nightmare, I hope this makes you feel a little less alone.

1 . When you learn about the roles in an alcoholic family and catch yourself comparing you and your siblings to each stereotypical role.

2. Thinking your parent can’t be an alcoholic, because they don’t act like the alcoholics on TV do.

3. Wishing your parents would get a divorce so that the fighting would stop.

  • And then feeling horrible, because so many kids struggle with having separated parents (but it must be for the best sometimes, right?)

4. The first time you read a story from another child of an alcoholic and have to choke back tears. Or your stomach churns with simultaneous feelings of discomfort and…acceptance?

  • Subsequently wondering why you hadn’t read more stories like this until college, because your childhood self would have felt a lot more validated.

5. Repeating over and over: it could be worse, it could be worse, it could be worse.

  • When you desperately want to talk to someone about your home life, but don’t want to sound whiny.

6. Drawing the line on your alcoholic parent’s toxicity at the dinner table – name-calling, endless complaining on trivial matters, back-handed compliments, infuriating arrogance – and then feeling horrible for spurring another screaming match.

  • Or, being the one to just sit there and take it, and feeling horrible for that, too.

7. When someone tells you that your parent “wasn’t always like this.”

  • Why does that excuse them from being an ass? Why does that mean I have to either silence my opinions and my voice, or fight constantly?

8. Alternatively hearing, “they were so good to you when you were a baby! They would do anything for you.”

  • First of all, I’m not a baby anymore; I’m a grown adult with lasting damage from an emotionally distant parent. Of course I'm grateful they care about me, but it sure didn't feel that way when they only showed up to one varsity game, a couple beers deep.

9. When you’re out for the third night in a row with your college friends, and you know that none of them are worried about forming an alcoholism habit – but you are.

10. When someone calls you out on being non-confrontational.

  • ...but you aren’t. You’re just selectively confrontational after years of fighting. After so much time spent holding onto anger for your parent, you know when to let things go.

11. When your friends or younger siblings think your parent is hilarious, but you know they’re just drunk. And you are far less entertained.

12. Feeling like an emotional support figure to the rest of your family, but having no one to support and understand you.

  • Someone might suggest going to AA for children of alcoholics, but that's about the worst thing your 12-year-old self could imagine.

13. When you break up with your first real boyfriend or girlfriend and realize that you can’t just stop loving someone, even when you know you should. Then feeling regret for ever having the nerve to ask one of your parents to leave the other as a confused and frustrated teen.

  • Even if your toxic parent caused you pain, your mom or dad still loved them and had a more complicated relationship than you could have imagined at 16. If it was that difficult to find the nerve to say goodbye to someone you love after a couple of years, imagine having spent half a lifetime together.

14. Coming to understand that alcoholism is a disease, and there is a person behind all that pain...

  • ...but not really knowing if you want to build up a relationship now that you're in your 20's. Is it worth it? Maybe your sister can forget the years of tension, but for you, it's a little more complicated.

15. When you find out a friend has gone through something similar, and immediately connect deeper than with people you’ve known for years.

  • And finding a dark sort of comfort in having someone to joke about your dysfunctional families with.

16. When you finally realize that just because something could be worse, doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem. You aren’t weak for letting alcoholism affect you. The disease has a way of ripping apart even families that are filled with love.

This is by no means a full comprehensive list; but it does include a lot of the moments I felt most impacted by, and things that made me feel less alone when I found other people who understood. Feel free to add anything in the comments, you never know who you could impact.

Addiction impacts millions of people in the U.S. alone, with 10% of American children living in homes with alcoholic parents, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Every story is important. Your story is important. I truly hope you find the courage to open up to someone, whether it’s a friend or a teacher or a therapist. You might be surprised who you find a connection to.


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