Health and Wellbeing

Support for students who grew up with an alcoholic parent or guardian

Eleanor Brown, Wellbeing Practitioner, talks about the support available for students who grew up with an alcoholic parent.

This week is Alcohol Awareness Week. Find out how our Counselling, Health and Wellbeing service could help if you grew up with an alcoholic parent.

Find out more about Alcohol Awareness Week and the support available here

Before you came to live in Cardiff to attend University, were you living with an alcoholic parent?

Adults who grew up with either one or both of their parents as alcoholics often describe having felt like they’d lived in the shadows growing up, not really having the opportunity to have any thoughts or feelings of their own because of always being caught up in their parents’ moods and dramas. It may have been confusing and frustrating, and even though you are living away from that now, still may find it very difficult.

Perhaps you had never really thought about how your parents’ alcoholism affected you growing up. Perhaps you only started to realise it had once you’d left home for university. Even though you’ve left physically, you could still feel emotionally and mentally as though you are there, trapped in that house with the alcoholic(s). Feelings of ambivalence, uncertainty, distrust of other people, fear of intimacy and loss of control may actually be in large part due to the experience of living with alcoholism.

Shame and anger at parents are common feelings described, complicated by a sense of guilt about feeling this way about people one is apparently supposed to love. Living on a merry-go-round with fear, anger, guilt and shame going round and round in your head. These things combined can result in a feeling of hopeless and depression in the adult child of alcoholics and seeing a counsellor and/or attending al-anon meetings could be really helpful. With support you may be able to work towards forgiving your parent(s) and begin to gain clarity and understanding on alcoholism and that it’s the disease that’s destroying them but that it doesn’t have to destroy your life too. You can take responsibility for your own happiness and wellbeing now.

You may also find that you are not very adept at relaxing. Being able to relax effectively is a skill after all. But you may have had very little opportunity to practice this skill growing up due to only being able to relax when you parent wasn’t drinking, and even then not being able to relax very well because of anticipating when they would next be drinking and the next drunken episode.

This is another avenue for you to consider regarding how to look after yourself now that you are able to focus more attention on you. Practice relaxation. Try different things and make a commitment to yourself to persevere. Take a look at our self-help pages on improving your Mental Wellbeing for some ideas on this.

According to J. Woititz (1983), Adult children of alcoholics may demonstrate a number of the below characteristics:

  • Difficulty seeing things through from beginning to end
  • Judge themselves harshly
  • May take themselves very seriously
  • Experience difficulty within intimate relationships
  • Struggle with change they have no control over
  • Constantly seek reassurance and approval
  • Feel isolated and different from other people
  • May be impulsive
  • Loyal, even when loyalty is undeserved.


How could counselling help you?

Counselling provides a safe and confidential space to talk about your experiences and to voice the frustrations, anger and shame you perhaps feel unable to discuss elsewhere. A Counsellor can work with you towards gaining greater understanding of yourself, help you blamelessly explore your past family situation and honestly evaluate any behaviours you feel you’ve taken on and help you move forward, acknowledging the importance of fulfilling your own needs; most importantly the need for an authentic connection in relationships with other people where alcoholism no longer distorts perspective.


Contact the Counselling Health & Wellbeing Service

If you would like support on this issue or are experiencing any other kind of emotional distress, please do not hesitate to get in touch with the Counselling, Health and Wellbeing Service who can offer support to anybody experiencing any sort of difficulty, however big or small.

The Counselling, Health and Wellbeing Service offer booked appointments via an online referral questionnaire, in which friendly, approachable staff can offer you non-judgmental support in a safe and confidential space. They also offer a daily Wellbeing Walk-In Service (3pm-3.45pm: Monday–Friday and Wednesday mornings: 9.30am-10.15am at the Student Support Centre at 50 Park Place)

If you are worried that you are experiencing physical symptoms that may be affecting your health, we strongly advise you to make a GP appointment to discuss this. If you do not already have a GP, please contact NHS Wales on 0845 46 47 or check out their website.


Other support

Support for families and friends of alcoholics


Your feedback and help please

Have you found this blog post useful?  Please help us by commenting in the comments bar below, and if there is anything further you’d like to know ask your questions there too.

We’d also be grateful if you can share this information by re-tweeting or sharing with your fellow students who may find this useful – you can do this by using the share buttons or via twitter and Facebook.


Best Wishes,

Eleanor Brown, Student Counsellor and Wellbeing Practitioner.

Your Student Life, Supported.

The Student Support Centre has a range of services dedicated to helping students make the most of their time at University, including:Advice & MoneyCareers & EmployabilityCounselling, Health & WellbeingDisability & Dyslexia and International Student Support.

The Student Support Centres are located at 50 Park Place, Cathays Campus and Cardigan House, Heath Park Campus.

For further details of services, events, opening times and more find us on the University Intranet.


No comments.

Leave a Reply