The effects of alcoholic fathers on daughters
As the daughter of an alcoholic father, you are likely well aware of the negative consequences of alcoholism. Alcohol use disorders don’t just hurt alcoholics. Children of alcoholics often suffer a great deal as a result of their parent’s drinking. If you grew up in an alcoholic home, you may have experienced frequent blowups, neglect, conflict, having to tiptoe around a drunk dad and, in some cases, physical or emotional abuse. Fathers are important figures in a child’s development and growing up with an alcoholic father can impact daughters in childhood and as adults.
The effect of an alcoholic fathers on their daughters during childhood
It can feel extremely lonely growing up with an alcoholic father. However, living with a parent struggling with substance abuse is surprisingly common. According to The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), one out of every eight children have lived in a household where at least one parent has a substance use disorder. There are many negative consequences and effects of alcoholic fathers on a daughter’s development and wellbeing.
Having a caretaker who struggles with substances can create chaos and instability in a child’s life. Children need their parents to care for their emotional and physical needs. When a father is an alcoholic, their child’s needs often take a backseat to their addiction. Alcoholic dads may also drop key responsibilities like taking care of their child. As a result, daughters of alcoholic fathers often do not get their emotional and physical needs met. This can lead daughters of alcoholic fathers to feel unloved, unworthy, unsupported or like they did something wrong.
Growing up with an alcoholic father can have a number of social, emotional and cognitive impacts on children even from an early age. In childhood, young daughters of alcoholic fathers may struggle with:
- Guilt over their father’s drinking
- Anger, confusion and fear
- Symptoms of anxiety, depression and lowered self-esteem childhood
- Embarrassment and isolation because of their parent’s behavior
- A sense of responsibility over their parent’s drinking
- Stubborn/persistent temperaments in infants as young as a year old
- Behavioural issues & problems with self control
- Attachment disorders
- Emotional problems and hyperactivity
Are you or a loved one struggling with substance abuse?
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Dysfunction growing up in alcoholic households
Alcoholic parents often spend a significant amount of time drinking, seeking alcohol or hungover. Being in these physical states can lead to mood swings, anger and irritability. Growing up with a frequently drunk dad can mean frequent arguments, angry outbursts, unreliability and inconsistency. Alcohol abuse also increases the risk of accidents and injury as well as violent and antisocial behavior.
Daughters of alcoholic fathers are often exposed to a great deal of conflict and dysfunctional behavior. Young children learn from and internalize their parents behavior. With all of the chaos, alcoholic families attempting to keep afloat during the constant turmoil are forced into denial to avoid shame and maintain a veil of normalcy. Many children believe they are at fault for their dad’s moods and behaviors.
How does growing up with an alcoholic father affect a child’s future?
Because there are a host of other issues that accompany alcoholism– like family dysfunction, financial problems, accidents, violence, neglect, abuse, job loss and health problems– daughters of alcoholics often grow up with a great deal of turmoil that can impact their future life outcomes and wellbeing. Research shows that children of alcoholics and substances abusers are at higher risk for the following issues:
- Maladaptive cognitions and beliefs can result in inappropriate behaviors and lead to other issues
- Lower academic achievement, less verbal ability and school failure
- Alcoholism and other substance abuse issues in adolescence and adulthood
- Neuroticism and psychiatric distress
- Experiencing physical or sexual abuse
Other research indicates that alcoholism among even fathers prior to conception could result in abnormal patterns of gene expressions which may have long-lasting impacts on their offspring’s behavior.
Learn more about how to deal with a loved one’s addictions
Are you concerned about a loved one’s substance abuse? Check out the following guides to learn more about substance use disorders, talking to the person in your life about getting treatment and how to support addiction recovery:
- Guide for Teen Addiction
- Guide for Addiction in Adult Children
- Guide for Women and Addiction
- Guide for Dealing with an Addicted Spouse
- Guide for Adult Children of Addicts
- Guide to Parenting as an Addict
- How to Help a Drug Addict Son
- How to Let Go of a Drug Addict Son
- How recovery works: 10 things to know about a loved one’s addiction
Effects of an alcoholic fathers on daughters in adulthood
Unfortunately, the behaviors of alcoholic parents can impact their children for many years beyond childhood. Even as adults, the effects of alcoholic fathers on daughters’ lives, emotions, health and relationships can interrupt their lives and relationships.
Children of alcoholic parents often go without having their basic care and emotional needs met by their parents, something that is critical in developing secure attachments. This can negatively affect future relationships of daughters of alcoholic fathers. Dysfunctional relationships and unhealthy behavior may feel normal so it may feel comfortable to enter into unhealthy relationships. Additionally, the instability, chaos and unpredictability can lead children of alcoholics to feel responsible for others and take on more than they should, a behavior that can continue through adulthood. Carrying the burden of their father’s alcoholism, daughters may frequently feel a sense of responsibility, guilt or blame themselves when things go wrong.
Common traits of adult daughters of alcoholic dads
Alcoholism and the related consequences can have a lasting impact on daughters of alcoholic fathers. Growing up with a regularly drunk dad, daughters may quickly learn that they cannot rely on their father. They may fear him, doing their best to avoid drunken rages, bad moods and verbal or physical abuse.
Because young children do not understand the complexities of addiction and how it affects a person as well as their behavior, they may feel rejected, embarrassed, unlovable or like something is wrong with them. Such experiences can affect how children of alcoholic parents learn to relate to others, cope with difficulties, build future relationships and even how their personality develops in adulthood. The effects of alcoholic fathers on their daughter’s traits and personality can be significant. Some common characteristics and traits of children of alcoholic parents include:
- Approval seeking and people pleasing: It is common for ACOAs to seek approval from others as a form of self assurance. Approval seeking behaviors can create a host of problems in other relationships. Daughters of alcoholics may seek to make others happy without protecting themselves or their needs. This can mean a loss of connection with one’s self, feelings, wants and needs in an attempt to garner outside approval.
- Fearful of angry people or criticism: For daughters of alcoholic fathers, signs of anger can be extremely scary and distressing. Their drunk dad might have easily flown into angry rages or have been set off by the smallest thing. As a child, it can be quite frightening when a parent becomes angry out of nowhere. For some, anger or criticism might have even signaled forthcoming abuse. For this reason, anger and even small criticisms can feel extremely dangerous to some daughters of alcoholic fathers.
- Loneliness: Children of alcoholics often struggle with feelings of loneliness and isolation. Because their childhood was so chaotic, they may have consistently felt different from their peers who had supportive, present parents. Dealing with the burden of a parent’s alcoholism can be very lonely and lead to feelings of isolation that persist into adulthood. Children of alcoholics may also choose to isolate themselves as a coping mechanism for emotional turmoil, even as adults.
- Overly responsible or perfectionist: Growing up in an alcoholic home, some children feel that they are fully responsible for making things okay at home, taking on duties beyond their years, excelling academically, and achieving. As a child, it may have felt like being perfect was the only way to receive positive attention or distract from other issues at home. One of the effects of alcoholic fathers on daughters is that daughters can develop the need to be perfect and in control at all times. These behaviors may have helped children of alcoholics cope with the chaos with lack of control they had over their lives in childhood. However, as an adult they can be harmful to one’s self-esteem and relationships.
- Seemingly judgmental: Some daughters of alcoholic fathers may be described as judgmental by those around them. Harsh judgments may be directed at others. However, usually children of alcoholics are harshest on themselves. This can be the result of growing up in an unsupportive home where there was little positive attention and a great deal of criticism.
- Inexpressive with emotions: Many adult children of alcoholic parents struggle to share or express their feelings. Daughters of alcoholic parents were often forced to repress their emotions to cope with a difficult and unpredictable environment during childhood. They may have even been punished, yelled at or abused for expressing their feelings. Locking away emotions was a way to remain safe. For this reason, it can be challenging and even scary for some daughters of alcoholic fathers to access or express their emotions with others, especially in close relationships.
- Overreactive: Some children of alcoholic parents find themselves having disproportionate reactions to even the smallest problems or inconveniences as adults. Daughters of alcoholic fathers may have watched their parent overreact in childhood, leading them to behave similarly as an adult. Seemingly small stressors can also be triggers for difficult, traumatic memories from childhood. When those stressors appear, they may revert to the sad, angry or scared child of the past.
Issues adult daughters of alcoholic fathers struggle with
You do not simply outgrow the dysfunction you experienced during your formative years. As children, daughters of alcoholics are forced to find coping mechanisms that allow them to survive the unstable and unpredictable environment as best as they can. However, for many, the coping mechanisms that served them as children hurt them and damage their relationships as adults. Dr. Janet G. Woititz, outlined 13 common behaviors adult children of alcoholics may display in her 1983 book, Adult Children of Alcoholics:
- Judging themselves extremely harshly and without mercy
- Constantly seeking outside affirmation and approval
- Being overly responsible or extremely irresponsible
- Feeling the need to lie in unnecessary instances
- Difficulty completing projects from start to finish
- Difficulties in intimate relationships
- Taking themselves extremely seriously
- Finding it hard to relax and have fun
- Overreacting to changes when they lack control
- Being extremely loyal, even when it is clear the loyalty is undeserved
- Guessing at what “normal” is
- Feeling different from others
- Impulsivity and locking a course of action without giving true consideration to other alternatives or negative consequences.
These behaviors can create a number of additional issues in one’s life and relationships. Issues like impulsivity may lead to negative feelings, confusion, self-hate and a sense that things are frequently out of control.
Healing from growing up with an alcoholic dad
While having an alcoholic dad can leave adult children with many wounds and unresolved issues, healing is possible. Despite how it may feel, your father’s alcoholism was not your fault and you deserve to lead a happy, functional life. As a child, you may have been powerless, but as an adult you can make the decision to change your life so that your father’s alcoholism no longer disrupts your life or dictates your future. Here are some things you can do:
- Attend therapy with a qualified professional who understands substance use disorders
- Go to family counseling
- Join a support group for loved ones of alcoholics. Al-anon and Adult Children of Alcoholics have in-person and online meetings.
- Learn more about substance use disorders to understand the disease and how its impacts show up in your life
- If your father is attending treatment, participating in family sessions may be helpful to your relationship
- Set healthy boundaries with others
- Practice self care
- Don’t be to hard on yourself
- Remember you are not at fault for your father’s alcoholism, nor can you heal him. That is up to him.
Daughters of alcoholic fathers often feel a great deal of anger, resentment, hurt and distrust that impacts their life and relationships as an adult. Even if your father is already sober and has changed his destructive behaviors, that doesn’t mean that the hurt and the pain you have been carrying since childhood will simply disappear. You deserve resolution. Getting individual therapy or attending therapy with your parent can help you work through these issues. It can be difficult and painful to deal with issues from the past, but it can lead to a better future.
Call us for a free consultation
If you are considering addiction treatment for yourself or someone in your life, now is the time to take action. Addiction is a deadly disease that has taken too many lives, broken up families and destroyed futures. Recovery works for so many and it can for your family. Liberty Ranch offers free consultations. Call 888-387-1531 to talk to a specialist that can let you know about the treatment options available and help you select the right program.
If your father still struggles with alcoholism you can try to speak with him about available treatment options. Liberty Ranch offers a comprehensive Intensive Outpatient Treatment Program (IOP) with family counseling services available. However, if your father is not willing to accept treatment, you can still find your own path to healing.