Many children of alcoholics seek help from a therapist, but they may not realise that their problems started with someone’s else’s addiction.
The realisation that ”my parent is an alcoholic” can be a breakthrough moment for someone in therapy.
Lee Taylor, the family programme coordinator at Castle Craig, says that many families that are affected by addiction try to keep it secret: ”They fear that someone will find out. They have learned to lie about it. There’s a lot of anger within the family.”
Often the family members don’t know what’s wrong. They might suffer from a loved-one’s alcoholism for many years, and develop distinct psychological problems, but without realising the causes.
Kwan Yin-Bruhl, a psychologist from France, says: “children of alcoholics who seek therapy don’t often make the link between their issues and their parents’ addiction.” She recently treated a patient in Lyon who had attempted suicide and didn’t make any connection between her problems and her alcoholic father.
According to Kwan, ”it was only when she started talking about how she felt about her father that she could consciously say: My father is an alcoholic.” This is a crucial step in the treatment of the patient.
The recovery process can only start when the patient accepts that they’re not responsible for their parent’s behavior. Having identified the source of the problem the treatment can begin — by addressing the negative feelings about, in this case, the alcoholic father.
Kwan helps patients identify their negative beliefs and change them. She also helps them understand their strengths and weaknesses.
“I help patients address their shame and guilt”, she explains, “then we start treating their anxiety problems, their negative feelings as well as the drinking issue of their parents.”
During this difficult process, in which the patients have to address a lot of feelings, Kwan says: “the main problem is that the patients are so scared. They are afraid to talk to their parents about their alcoholism.”
Once the patients accept that alcohol is not their problem, they can begin to live their life without guilt.
Page published: January 15, 2015. Page last reviewed and clinically fact-checked February 26, 2020