Perspectives from Al‑Anon Members & Professionals

The impacts of growing up with the family disease of alcoholism

You can find out more about the family disease of alcoholism and its effects on children by checking out the new “Perspectives: ‘Growing up with the family disease of alcoholism'” playlist on the Al‑Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc. YouTube channel. It includes interviews with Al‑Anon and Alateen members and professionals that specialize in the field of addiction medicine.


This video includes interviews with Al‑Anon and Alateen members from Al‑Anon and Alateen’s Role in Family Recovery (AV‑31DVD) and various professionals.

The opinions expressed are strictly those of the person who gave them.

Al‑Anon/Alateen members’ identities are protected so they can share openly and honestly about their experience with a loved one’s drinking and with the Al‑Anon/Alateen program.

Al‑Anon cooperates with therapists, counselors, and other professionals, but does not endorse, oppose, or affiliate with any professional, organization, or entity. Their comments reflect their professional expertise and use of Al‑Anon as a resource for their clients and patients who are or have been affected by an individual’s addiction to alcohol.

Video Transcript

Perspectives from Al‑Anon Members & Professionals

The impacts of growing up with the family disease of alcoholism

JERRY MOE, CHILDREN AND FAMILY COUNSELOR: What we know is that one out of every four children in the United States today is growing up in a family and they love someone who suffers from the disease of alcoholism. And this disease, insidious disease, is characterized by denial, silence, secrecy, and shame. And so many of these boys and girls are silent and invisible.

AL‑ANON MEMBER: It got to a point where I grew up, you know, stuffing everything that was in my life, whether it was family secrets or my feelings. It was very uncomfortable to be who I was. I always ran away when I was young and came back at home at night. And as the alcoholism increased, it was, you know, sort of unbearable. To have anyone that knew me to come to my house because you didn’t know what was going to happen, whether it was going to be, you know, some kind of chaos or drama or any arguments and the fighting. It was just, you know, confusion at its peak. And it was scary growing up.

ALATEEN MEMBER: It was it was chaos all around. And, you know, I try to like because I’m the youngest and I’ve always tried to be like the center of the attention, trying to keep everyone happy. It’s really hard because my siblings don’t really have a good relationship with my father and I’m really close to him. I guess we didn’t really realize that at that a alcoholism would affect me that much because I’ve never really seen, I never seen my dad drink.

NANCY DUFF‑BOEHM, CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST: The eggshell syndrome where everybody in the household of an alcoholic needs to be walking very, very carefully, not to trigger a reaction and from the alcoholic. That generates a hyper arousal, a chronic hyper arousal in every other person in the household. This hyper arousal elevates the stress hormones in a person’s body so that that destroys as many organs as quickly as alcohol does.

And in addition to the anxiety, there’s the resentment, the anger that this addict or alcoholic is not taking responsibility for their part of the family business so that this becomes a powder keg. Something is going to happen that is going to skew that child’s or that individual’s life, and it can end up in a rage reaction.

So, it’s the eggshell syndrome that that leads to a hyper arousal, chronic hyper arousal. And then also the family secrets. It’s very typical, in an alcoholic family that everybody understands that none of this is to leave the four walls of the house. You know, the way they do this is, of course, keeping the information from the children. But of course, the children catch on anyway. And so when they say something, it’s, “Oh, no, no, no, that’s not the truth.” Which leads the child to doubt themselves, leading to low self‑esteem, or to really resenting the parent, which will lead to, you know, crazy adolescent rebellion reactions.

ANN MCGREEVY, SUPERVISOR OF PSYCHOLOGICAL STUDIES AT FREDERICK COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS: When you’re a child or an adolescent, it really doesn’t matter what a family member is addicted to. It is impacting the family.

And if you have done any reading or studying on adverse childhood experiences, you know that a family member’s addiction is one of the adverse childhood experiences. And so, it’s impacting the child’s brain development. It’s impacting the child’s social ability to interact with other children their age. It’s impacting the child’s ability to form meaningful adult relationships. So, it’s impacting the child and adolescents functioning across the board.

So, alcohol addiction is just as detrimental as any other addiction on a child’s functioning. And as you’ve heard, and as you know, it can set patterns for life long, dysfunctional interactions and relationships.

ALATEEN MEMBER: Before coming to Alateen, my life was pretty much going downhill, you know, having fights every day with my mom and stuff like that and doing bad in school just to get attention because I wasn’t getting it from the alcoholic or the drug addict in my family. So, I would seek, you know, different stuff to try to get attention. And it wasn’t benefiting me in any kind of way.

AL‑ANON MEMBER: Before I had jobs where I would work there for months, three months, for a year even. And then, you know, I’d lose my temper and I’d lose my job. You know, now I have an education, I have a career, I have a relationship with the alcoholic.

Before Al‑Anon, I hated the alcoholic. Wanted nothing to do with him – just total resentment, just poisoned me. You know, today I have a relationship with the alcoholic. And it’s come through building boundaries. You know, I have very set boundaries with the alcoholic. And by maintaining those boundaries, I’m able to have a relationship with him. Something I thought was never possible. Because hating your dad doesn’t work.

You know, a lot of people go, “I hate my dad. I don’t want anything to do with him.” Doesn’t work. He’s my dad. You know, he raised me. He was my hero for a long, long time. And then the disease got him. You know, my heroes still there. He’s just got a disease.

So, you know, today I’m able to, you know, sit down, and talk with him, I’m able to go out and go fishing with him, and I’m able to have a relationship with this man that I hated for so long. Something I thought would never happen. And that’s cause I work the program.

CATHY BERRICK, BA/BSW: Well, recognizing alcoholism in the family is a difficult thing. Obviously, denial is the hallmark of addiction. So, it’s a difficult thing to see as a family member.

What I would always say and have always said to family members is it’s not how much someone’s drinking. It’s not how often they’re drinking. It’s what happens when they do. And if that person’s drinking is upsetting you, if it’s creating situations that are making you worry, become angry, fearful, ashamed, then chances are you have the family illness of alcoholism present.

AL‑ANON MEMBER: I found coming to Al‑Anon that there was some sort of common ground, a feeling of acceptance and learning that alcoholism was a disease and that I played no part in causing it. And I was very limited to even think that I, you know, could cure it. So, as I came to meetings, I learned that I cannot control it. So, if I wanted to be healthy and happy. It was up to me.

AL‑ANON MEMBER: I learned what it meant to be to have a place where you can go, where you know that you’re not alone, where you can share what’s in your heart, your mind, and your soul, and know that you’re not going to be criticized for it. Know that you’re not going to be judged for what you did. Know that it’s okay to love an alcoholic and it’s okay to start to learn how to love yourself, how to keep the focus on you. And how you’re worth it.