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24 ‘Habits’ of People Who Grew Up With an Alcoholic Parent

Editor's Note

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction, the following post could be triggering. You can contact SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

Growing up, I saw the effects of alcoholism firsthand and I can say with certainty that it shaped the way I see the world and how I cope with situations. I used to think that it was my fault my parent drank too much, and if I did something to please them (like getting straight A’s) they would stop. It’s a “habit” I haven’t been able to shake.

If you grew up with a parent who drank too much, maybe you cultivated similar “habits” as well. Maybe you developed them as a way to cope with their drinking. Or maybe these “habits” are how you cope with your feelings and memories about the situation, especially if you felt isolated, hurt or embarrassed by your parent’s choices.

We turned to members of our Mighty community and asked them to share a “habit” they developed from growing up with an alcoholic parent. When reading the responses, community member Connie S. shared, “reading these comments make me feel more ‘normal.’ Sometimes I think it’s only me feeling that way.” If you grew up with an alcoholic parent we hope you feel understood in the same way.

If you feel alone because you grew up with an alcoholic parent or guardian, there is support available. You can always reach out to The Mighty community by posting a Thought or Question using the hashtag #CheckInWithMe. You don’t have to go through these feelings alone.

Here’s what our community members shared with us:

1. “I absolutely hate the smell of beer. We crushed so many beer cans because dad drank so much.” — Tami G.

2. “Caregiving, people-pleasing, perfectionism… I’ve tried to take care of everyone but myself for most of my life.” — Leah L.

3. “I avoided alcohol for the rest of my youth after my parents got divorced. I became really obedient towards my mother, and never tried to pick a fight — even more so when she was drunk.” — Ann-Kathrin P.

4. “Getting really nervous and antsy when people I care deeply about drink. I used to get really touchy when my best friends would drink because I was so scared I’d have to live through my trauma all over again for them because I knew I’d want to support them through it instead of walking away.” — Rowan S.

5. “Fighting the urge to just drink my problems away and holding myself back from being abusive to others like my father was.” — Ronald D.

6. “My parents did not drink, but both came from alcoholic fathers. They were ‘perfectionists’ and brought alcoholic tendencies into our home as well. So, until educated about the disease, alcoholism reaches deep into a family for generations.” — Peggy L.

7. “I hate bright ceiling lights. Especially in the kitchen, because it brings back high school memories of my mom standing in the kitchen at 4:15 a.m., every night, with that look on her face that I knew all too well. She yelled and cursed the world and lashed out, even on school nights. We’ve since mended our relationship. But it still lives with me and I prefer lamps and lights that are duller. If I have to be in a room with a bright ceiling light, I get really irritable and uncomfortable until I finally have to excuse myself to a room that’s dimmer and has more comfortable furniture.” — Summer P.

8. “I’m an overachiever because I seek recognition and approval. Even when I give it my best, I feel like I need to do more. Probably because my father never told me ‘good job’ or went to any of my awards ceremonies or concerts — nothing.” — Alan B.

9. “I’m doing the things for my kids she didn’t do for me and avoiding the things that were destroying herself. I’m forgiving the people that have wronged me, including her. I put my faith in God and lay my worries at His feet.” — Maiwyn S.

10. “Never letting my guard down.” — Tabby K.

11. “I am always the designated driver and I drink water so I can take care of everyone else. Just like I have my whole life. Always the caregiver, never the partier.” — Anna W.

12. “Taking care of the [people drinking]. People assume I’m nice but it’s a leftover effect of having to take care of my mother when she was trashed.” — Sami B.

13.Literally drinking minimally. My mom had the issues, but since my dad experienced it firsthand, he would always tell me one drink would get me drunk as a teenager. Obviously as an adult now, I know that one drink does not get you drunk immediately, but I still only do one drink because of the risk of what my mom had dealt with, and that is only on [special] occasions. Even after she has recovered and doesn’t drink anymore, she has told me to be careful about drinking. I want that apple to be far from the tree, so to speak.” — Kelsey T.

14. “Detaching from people that show certain behaviors. I grew up with an alcoholic father who would guilt trip me, as well as go out of his way to upset or anger me. The second I get the sense that someone is guilt-tripping me, I detach and pretty much refuse to associate with them. I lived through too long of my life with it when I couldn’t stop it, that I don’t allow myself to deal with it when I can stop it.” — Kris M.

15.I avoid all alcohol. I don’t talk about it, avoid the ‘wine mom’ culture, don’t talk to people who have been drinking, none of it. I maybe have one drink a year and I feel so guilty afterward. I’m also a control freak and I’m pretty sure it stems from my childhood.” — Shayla F.

16. “I pretty much avoid drinking, I have a three-drink-per-year limit. Rarely do I even have one drink, due to my deep fear that I will become an alcoholic like so many people in my life. I had a counselor even tell me I have an irrational fear of drinking.” — Andrea B.

17. “I too avoid drinking. I don’t find drinking games funny, I don’t find wine or beer tours fun or entertaining, I hate comments like, ‘Here’s a bottle of wine for your teacher because my kid makes you want to drink.’ I don’t find any of that funny and don’t want any part of it.” — Kimberly C.

18. “Continuously engaging in co-dependent relationships, blaming myself for everything, reckless behaviors, still protective of that parent. That’s the first relationship you have is your mom or your dad. So when those parents don’t know how to be people with healthy boundaries, coping skills or values it really affects the children in the home. By the time we’re adults we pretty much have to relearn everything and we are afraid to outgrow our parents ,so a lot of the time we stay stuck.” — Liz S.

19. “Wanting to have control over certain situations, getting irritated very quickly over stupid things. Putting up walls and being emotionally unavailable. I have enough mental health issues, the last thing I need to do is drink, so I don’t. Lucky for me, I don’t even like it.” — Jenna C.

20. “The unnecessary need/thought to know where people are at all times, then getting anxious or irritated when I don’t know or ask.” — Rachel C.

21. “Always having Plans A, B, C and D ready to roll out based on the alcoholic’s behavior.” — Betsy L.

22. “Hating all people who drink alcohol even if they aren’t an alcoholic. Seeing someone drinking alcohol or just smelling it triggers me so hard I automatically hate them. Thanks, Mom and Dad.” — Anna T.

23. “Perfectionism, people-pleasing, pushing my feelings down to never upset others.” — Jess E.

24. “Not drinking and not attending parties where people are loud and obnoxious. Oh, and being a perfectionist to an utterly exhausting level.” — Kadie S.

It can be tough to grow up with an alcoholic parent, and the after-effects can last a long time. It’s OK if you struggle with any of these “habits.” If any of these are affecting your mental health and overall well-being, it’s important to work with a health professional to break these habits and build new, healthier ones.

Talking about what you experienced growing up and connecting with others who have gone through similar situations can help you begin to heal. To give and get support now from a community of folks who’ve been there, you can post a Thought or Question with the hashtag #CheckInWithMe. We’re here for you.