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Adult Children

"Adult Children, Why is there SO MUCH Anger?"
copyright 2011, all rights reserved

by Toby Rice Drews
author of the "Getting Them Sober" books

How to deal with/ live with/ one's child(ren) who are adult children of alcoholics, and who cannot / will not / let go of the anger toward the alcoholic, even if that parent is sober for quite a while------ A lot of good literature is out there about adult children of alcoholics and what has been done to them. But in the recovery part of it -- in the advice given to the acoa's themselves -- this question is hardly touched at all. In my counseling, I have had so many clients who have this problem with their adult children. And it usually manifests in the oldest child.

From what I've experienced, generally, it goes like this: the oldest child is the "hero", of course, as it states in the acoa literature...... but the oldest is often, also, the angriest of all the children. And it is often manifest in held-in, simmering, controlled .. and controlling.. anger.

The youngest child, (in the literature, the one who makes everyone laugh.. the clown), often is the one who feels the most attached to the alcoholic, who loves him or her the most, who forgives easily, who is most afraid of abandonment.

The middle child is often withdrawn, acting out, gets away...... but not always..... but is often very hurt by it all, without talking about it much. Remember these are generalizations, based on observation...... observation mostly of the oldest and youngest, because they are ones that are presented to me by clients as the ones who they are the most concerned about their behaviors.

The non-addicted parent is often quite understanding about the youngest child's attachment to the alcoholic parent.... it is often a poignant attachment and easier to understand than the anger that eminates from the oldest child.

This anger is often manifest about 50% of the time----- with very attaching nurturing behavior manifesting the other 50% of the time...... so, it is easy for the non-addicted parent to very much love and be very attached to this child who shows unflagging energy around caretaking everyone..... and yet, when that child is displeased, watch out!

This oldest child often becomes a helping professional. A few years ago, the N.I.A.A.A. (National Institute of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse) conducted a study at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, which said that 60% of first-year med students self-reported to be first-born children of alcoholics....... and those were the ones who self-reported, who SAW the alcoholism....... that is not the med students who themselves were alcoholics, and who therefore probably did not see the alcoholism in the parent. (The latest stats on this is that 25% of physicians are actively addicted to alcohol/other drugs.)

So------ what to do about it if your oldest child has this kind of anger? Well, even though one's first thought is probably to try to fix it, to try to get this child to understand their addicted parent..... it is probably mostly a futile effort because many of these adult children not only have trouble letting go of anger, but somewhat enjoy the self-righteous feelings that come about when comparing their own good behavior to that of the alcoholic. (It is understandable that they feel that way, but it is so very hurtful for them to go through life with this kind of baggage.)

It would probably be more useful to try to get that child to Al-Anon, saying something like, "Al-Anon helps one to detach and not even think about the alcoholic..... it helps take away all the sting from them, so you can really 'get away from it'." (Of course, if the youngest adult child is wanting to help the alcoholic, I'd say to that child, that Al-Anon helps one learn how to truly help the alcoholic.

Both statements are true...... it helps one 'get away from it' if you really want to...... and it also helps you learn how to really help, in the highest sense of the word 'help'..... the program meets all people at the level of their needs. It softens the too-tough, and toughens the too-soft.)

Also, I would read (and offer it to your adult children to read) a book called, "Adult Children of Alcoholics" by Janet Woititz. It gives a good general overall picture of the roles played by the adult children. Once you've learned more about how your children are literally programmed to behave around this disease, it will make it much easier to deal with, because then you can begin to let go of a lot of the unnecessary guilt..... guilt around the fact that you may think you set this child up to be angry, and set that child up to protect the alcoholic, etc. It does not mean that you did not act out all this yourself, too...... but that is only human! As Al-Anon says in the prologue to every meeting, "living with an alcoholic is too much for most of us!" I would not take that admonition lightly! No one can be expected, without knowledge and lots and lots of recovery, to NOT react ----- going back and forth from anger to worry, to fear, to guilt, to rage, to pity........ and on and on and on. (In "Getting Them Sober, Volume 3" I have an entire chapter on all the "pity to punish" stuff we do, and how to get off that treadmill that just eats us up much more than it hurts the alcoholic.)

And very important..... there is a lot of "birth order" stuff we're talking about here; i.e., the oldest child in any family, and the middle and youngest in any family -- even in healthy, non-addicted families -- have personality traits that seem to be very much like what I've described. But, in alcoholic families, those traits are multiplied hundreds of times...... the anger, the judgment, the self-righteousness, the fear, the worry --- they are rampant. That is, without recovery, they are rampant. With recovery, they really go way down.

And lastly, your oldest child who acts out this way may very well find herself/himself in a situation where later on, in marriage, they are faced with the very thing they expected the least ----- a spouse and/or child that they really love who has this disease. And they often then have to start the self-looking that they avoided... and start to look at what you've been talking about all this time. ------- best in recovery, Toby Rice Drews

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