Tag Archives: family

Children of Alcoholics Discuss Life ‘in a War Zone’

Blaire Sharpe and Phillip L. Woods know all too well about the pain that comes with growing up in an alcoholic home. But both have overcome that pain to create successful lives and enjoy the kind of peace they never had as children.

Alcoholic father threatening wife and childIn her new book, “Not Really Gone,” Sharpe (a pen name) describes the damage done to children when mom or dad, or both, depend on the bottle to get through life. “Growing up in an alcoholic family is like being raised in a war zone,” she writes in the book. “Life is, as best, unpredictable. Threats lurk; traps are set; people explode; survival becomes the goal.”1

Today Sharpe works as a mental health counselor in a Detroit suburb. She says she used a pen name for the book to spare her family the embarrassment of what occurred during her turbulent childhood into adulthood, and to protect herself, too.

Woods grew up in rural Indiana, his father an alcoholic and proprietor of a bootlegging business. He speaks many times throughout the book about wanting to kill his father, yet he eventually overcame these feelings of anger.

“To truly understand my feelings on a gut level, one would have to have lived in our home, where tension and fear were always present because of my father’s unpredictable outbursts,” he writes in the book.2

In an interview he explains, “I wanted to preserve my history for all my children and their children. I had a need for them to know they are descendants of an alcoholic, my father, and that if it is in any way genetic, that they are predisposed to the affliction.”

Genetics and Environment Both Contribute to Alcoholism

The link between genetics and alcoholism is no longer a question of “if,” but “how.” Research published in December 2014 in the academic journal Molecular Psychiatry showed how a network of genes, not just one gene, conspires inside the brain to create alcoholism. Using RNA sequencing technology, scientists from the University of Texas at Austin made this breakthrough discovery by analyzing tissue from the brains of alcoholics.3

Research also shows that children of alcoholics can grow up with a myriad of problems, including low self-esteem, helplessness, loneliness, guilt, fear of abandonment and chronic depression.4 Those factors can lead to alcoholism in and of themselves, Sharpe says.

Children of alcoholics can grow up with a myriad of problems, including low self-esteem, helplessness, loneliness, guilt, fear of abandonment and chronic depression. Those factors can lead to alcoholism in and of themselves.

“It can be difficult to extract a pure environment where alcoholism is the only causative factor with all other psychological and health issues being effects,” she explains. “Alcoholism, addiction, depression, anxiety, abuse of all types, financial distress … all these things are so interrelated—or at least often concurrently present—that it can be like a chicken and the egg scenario. Researchers like their research pure, controllable, and easily replicated. … It’s a blend of genes and environment. There is no one component that says, ‘If you’re raised in this environment, you’re doomed.’ Or ‘If you have this gene, you’re doomed.’ But there is a heightened possibility that if you choose to go down this road (of drinking), then things are dangerous.”

So how can those who grew up with alcoholics avoid the pitfalls of addiction, and further, take precaution to help their children avoid suffering the same fate?

Sharpe explains how a diabetic who loves cake would be smart to avoid eating cake. “If a diabetic thinks there even is a possibility of eating a second piece of cake because it tastes so good, then they are putting their life in danger.”

The same can happen with the child of an alcoholic who may think it is safe to be a social drinker. And that very much is Sharpe’s story. Even though she was well educated about the dangers children of alcoholics face, she found herself in the abyss of alcoholism twice in her life.

Sharpe has been sober for 15 years, but she tried to get sober 10 years before that and relapsed. She had a counselor tell her the first time around that her problem was not that she was an alcoholic, but that she was the product of an alcoholic environment. Sharpe later came to learn that she was both, she says.

When Mom or Dad Drinks: Hypervigilance and Living Life on Edge

Drunken woman with whiskey glassWhat is it about an alcoholic home that produces children who grow up fearful and tense, often turning to the bottle in an effort to slam the brakes on their anxiety?

“When you’re used to living your life on edge, as children of alcoholics do, there’s a hypervigilance (an acute awareness of your surroundings),” Sharpe says. “You’re always gauging what’s going on, scanning the crowd, analyzing micro-expressions. Once you get past using it as a protective mechanism, it can serve you well in life.”

A recovering alcoholic can prevent her own children from developing that sort of angst by providing a calm, stable environment.

A recovering alcoholic can prevent her own children from developing that sort of angst by providing a calm, stable environment.

“In our house, drinking is not a normal thing. It’s not part of our daily life and there is no ‘normalization’ of alcohol,” Sharpe says. “We go to our in-laws and everybody is drinking. The kids notice it, and they notice a difference between how those people behave and how their own mother behaves.”

Honesty about mom or dad’s problem with drinking also is a must, Sharpe adds. “We have open conversations about it all the time. They know their mom goes to meetings, and what they are all about. It’s a very eclectic group of people I hang out with. I’m sure they would wonder ‘why would she be friends with that person?’ if they didn’t know (that she was a recovering alcoholic).” That doesn’t mean coming out and saying “Mommy’s an alcoholic” when your children are in kindergarten is a good idea. There needs to be an age-appropriate progression, Sharpe says. When they are younger, maybe explain there is no beer or wine in the house because mommy doesn’t like what alcohol does to people. When they’re ready, explain how alcohol negatively impacted your own life and why you choose to abstain from it.

Cruel World: Sympathy Is Often Scarce for Alcoholics and Their Children

Being the child of an alcoholic can be very stigmatizing. In one poignant scene in Woods’ book, he describes being rejected by a girl’s father when he arrives to take her on a date.

“Alcoholics are seldom seen as sympathetic characters, even today,” he writes. “There is inequality in society’s treatment of them. Their families, even innocent children, are painted with the same broad brush and treated just as poorly. Of course, there are always kindhearted individuals who might feel sorry for the alcoholic family, but society as a whole does not. This is the discrimination that touched me directly in my childhood.”

Woods credits his grandfather, a “teetotaler,” for helping him get past the hurt and self-pity of growing up in an alcoholic home. He immersed himself in all the good, functional people in his life, even before his mother sent him to live with his granddad.

“The fear of ambiguity was replaced by love and affection,” he explains.

And that’s exactly how Sharpe has tried to rear her own children, she says—with predictability rather than the uncertainty she grew up with. “I tell them I’m sorry when I’m wrong, and as a result it’s OK for them to tell me when I’ve done something wrong. We forgive each other very quickly. That’s a very healthy relationship.”


1 Sharpe, B. (2015). Not Really Gone. (1st ed. Vol. 1). Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse.

2 Woods, P. (2015). Miles from Home: The Journey of a Lifetime (1st ed., Vol. 1, p. 13). Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse.

3 Farris, S.P., et al. (2014, December). Molecular Psychiatry. Transcriptome organization for chronic alcohol abuse in human brain.

4 Sher, K. (1997). Psychological Characteristics of Children of Alcoholics. Alcohol Health & Research World. 21, by

Drug Addiction: “You Don’t Understand Me”

Addiction is influenced by your specific body, biology and brain chemistry. It is a result of your past experiences and your current environment. It reflects your personality and that of the people around you. It is the accumulation of an infinite number of factors that can never be duplicated or replicated.

Knowing this, how could anyone ever understand you? How could they understand the and why of your addiction? How could they help? They can, because although addiction is a unique and individual experience, it is also a universal and shared one.

The Guardian[1] shares, “One in seven Americans will experience a problem with alcohol or other drug misuse in their lifetimes, and some 20 million have current substance use disorders.”

No one faces your specific circumstances, but many can and do understand. As with any disease, there are treatment paths and outlines. As with any disease, addiction’s expression and your experience of it are influenced by past and present factors. Treatment outlines adjust to fit your unique circumstances. Professionals and programs recognize and provide for your personal recovery needs.

Understanding Addiction on a Biological Level

Brain retro xrayAddiction is a biological disease. As the American Society of Addiction Medicine[2] (ASAM) explains, “Genetic factors account for about half of the likelihood that an individual will develop addiction.” The body and brain you are born with shape your future drug use trajectory. This doesn’t mean addiction is inevitable or inescapable. It means you need to be aware of your genetic risk and how it impacts your thoughts, behaviors, and recovery. Treatment professionals understand addiction on a biological level. They help you explore how your genes and your physical health have interacted with your drug use. They understand how some factors leading to addiction were beyond your control. Michael’s House helps you develop coping mechanisms for managing your health. We provide the experienced medical support that is a necessary part of full understanding and recovery.

Understanding Addiction on a Social Level

Addiction is a social disease. Friends, family, peers and community members have influenced and continue to influence your drug use. A lack thereof can be just as detrimental. You may think no one understands your addiction, but your addiction may be the result not understanding others.

The Huffington Post[3] explains, “Human beings have a deep need to bond and form connections. It’s how we get our satisfaction. If we can’t connect with each other, we will connect with anything we can find — the whirr of a roulette wheel or the prick of a syringe…A heroin addict has bonded with heroin because she couldn’t bond as fully with anything else.”

Before you retreat further into addiction with the excuse that no one understands, consider how reaching out could lead to discovering much-needed social support. Recovering from addiction involves more than knowing how people influenced your drug use. It involves knowing how they can help you heal. You can and will find others in recovery who understand you. Open up to others. Share your story and listen to theirs. No one perfectly fits the stereotypical “addict” mold. You may not find understanding from everyone, but you will find understanding from someone. You will find people who have had similar life experiences, face similar challenges, and feel and think similarly about certain issues or concerns. Doing so begins with knowing that others understand you, and you can understand them. Make yourself open to the possibility of friendship and support.

Supportive friendsRecovery involves finding a community of like-minded, supportive peers. Negate social risk factors by finding the people who understand your desire for a better, healthier life. ASAM explains, “As in other health conditions, self-management, with mutual support, is very important in recovery from addiction. Peer support such as that found in various ‘self-help’ activities is beneficial in optimizing health status and functional outcomes in recovery. Recovery from addiction is best achieved through a combination of self-management, mutual support, and professional care provided by trained and certified professionals.” Michael’s House teaches self-management skills. We teach you how to find personal strength and the strength to find additional help when you need it. We connect you to professionals who understand addiction and recovery. We connect you to peers who may just become lifelong, sober friends.

How Can Treatment Help Me, Specifically?

You may think you don’t need treatment. You may think other patients won’t have a similar story to yours. You may think professionals can’t help you with your personal challenges. None of this is true. No matter how “mild” your substance abuse or addiction seems, treatment helps. No matter how alone you feel, understanding exists. Call Michael’s House and speak with our caring, compassionate staff. We want to get to know and understand you. We can create a personalized treatment path that reflects your unique situation and recovery needs.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/18/us-drug-alcohol-addiction-statistics-treatment-reform. “US addiction statistics are dire. Small changes won’t solve the problem.” The Guardian. 18 Nov 2016. Web. 23 Mar 2017.

[2] http://www.asam.org/quality-practice/definition-of-addiction/. “Definition of Addiction.” American Society of Addiction Medicine. 19 Apr 2011. Web. 23 Mar 2017.

[3] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/johann-hari/the-real-cause-of-addicti_b_6506936.html. “The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think.” Huffington Post. 25 Jan 2016. Web. 24 Mar 2017.

Family Violence And Addiction

Addiction hurts families and for as many as 60 percent of families it also brings violence.[1] When an addict turns against his family with physical violence and verbal accusations, it brings suffering that lasts generations. Plus, violence indicates an addict suffers from a more severe addiction and mental health problems that need immediate treatment to ensure everyone’s safety.

Violence Easily Dismissed By The Drug User

Family violence is a damaging and dangerous result of drug addiction for some people.

Man's fist threatening womanSubstance users already deflect personal responsibility because of the way addiction affects their thinking and judgment. Such addiction thinking creates an alternate reality in their mind. Nearly anything they do in the name of their addiction is justified or easily excused. Money troubles, flaking out on promises, taking dangerous risks – it’s all under control and nobody else’s business.[2]

The same rules apply when a drug addict or alcoholic becomes violent. He lashes out, puts someone in her place, makes his position of control very clear or shows his dislike for something in a powerful destructive way. Because addictive thinking excuses his actions, nothing seems wrong with his behavior.

Someone who is violent, or becomes more violent, while using drugs or alcohol often has a more serious addiction and suffers with mental health disorders.[3]

People who suffer with addiction for many years and/or use multiple substances have severe addictions. They also experience more negative consequences from drug use, such as trouble maintaining relationships, problems with finances and maintaining employment and more encounters with the legal system.[4]

Studies also associate serious addictions with higher rates of violence among addicted women. Despite the stereotype of men committing intimate partner violence against women, newer studies show a greater number of addicted women being violent against partners compared to men. Women also are more susceptible to developing a serious addiction because it takes lower amounts of a substance to get them high and they metabolize substances at a slower rate.

While addicted women commit domestic violence, women in general are more likely to be the victim of violence. United States Bureau of Justice Statistics shows 85 percent of domestic violence victims are female. Substances are involved in an estimated 40 percent to 60 percent of domestic violence incidents.

Everyone In Family Affected By Violent Addict or Alcoholic

Scared girl in shadow of alcoholic fatherChildren, spouses, partners, even adult siblings or parents face the brunt of an addict’s violent nature. The addict desperately needs a sense of being in control or feeling powerful. While the need for control is normal and there are healthy ways to express it, addicts have impaired thinking. An addict’s mind is tuned into her emotions and skewed addiction logic, so violence is the natural outcome of overpowered emotions and low self-control.

In essence, violent behavior from an addict is an attempt to correct the imbalance. Since the addict is poorly equipped to deal with daily life and others, his attempts to make things better often make things worse. He strikes out against people he needs in his life as a way to feel better about how little control he has over his own behavior.

Violence Often Passed Through Generations

In many cases, family violence is displayed from generation to generation. This happens with or without an addiction, but addictions add another level of complexity and distance from personal responsibility.

The addict may be heavily under the influence of substances when committing violent acts, having few recollections of what he did. This makes it hard for him to adequately apologize or right the wrongs he committed. For example, someone may strongly minimize marital arguments, thinking he only yelled at his spouse a few times. Children who grow up in an abusive family learn unhealthy ways to cope, especially if it’s not made clear that physical and emotional violence is wrong.[5]

Family Violence Dangerous For All

Family violence is a serious consequence of drug and alcohol addiction. Family members may feel it’s easier to ignore the situation because they fear calling attention to it will make things worse. If you are a family member of a violent drug addict or alcoholic, do everything you can to keep yourself safe. Hopefully, your loved one will realize that drug treatment is the only way to get their family life back.

[1] Soper, Richard G. (2014). Intimate Partner Violence and Co-Occurring Substance Abuse/Addiction. American Society of Addiction Medicine magazine. Retrieved Apr. 21, 2017 from http://www.asam.org/magazine/read/article/2014/10/06/intimate-partner-violence-and-co-occurring-substance-abuse-addiction.

[2] Mercer, Delinda. (2000). Description of an Addiction Counseling Approach. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved Apr. 21, 2017 from https://archives.drugabuse.gov/.

[3] Arteaga, Alfonso; López-Goñi, José J.; & Fernández-Montalvo, Javier. (2015). Differential profiles of drug-addicted patients according to gender and the perpetration of intimate partner violence. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. Retrieved Apr. 21, 2017 from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0376871615003890.

[4] NIDA (2016). The Science of Drug Abuse and Addiction: The Basics. Media Guide. Retrieved Apr. 23, 2017, from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/media-guide

[5] Dayton, Tian. (2012). Growing Up With Toxic Stress or Addiction and Its Long-Term Impact. The Huffington Post. Retrieved Apr. 21, 2017 from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-tian-dayton/toxic-stress_b_2109402.html.