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How Having a Parent with Alcoholism Can Impact You and Your Eating

Many of my clients who are dysregulated eaters are children of parents who had problems with drugs or alcohol. A few are savvy about being an Adult Child of an Alcoholic (ACOA), and some even attend their group meetings. But many are unfamiliar with how this type of upbringing might effect them—and their relationship with food.
According to “Adult Children of Alcoholics: Healing Lifelong Scars” by Batya Swift Yasgur, MA, LSW (Psychiatric Advisor, 5/30/17, accessed 6/6/17,, “It is estimated that there are 28.6 million children of alcoholics (COAs) in the U.S… Compared with individuals who were not raised by an alcoholic parent, adult COAs are more likely to experience depression and engage in behavioral disengagement, denial, and substance abuse…and are 3-4 time more likely than non-ACOAs to select partners who are alcoholic.”
It is crucial to understand the profound impact that being raised by someone with alcohol (or drug) problems has on a child. These are people who often are emotionally dysregulated, unpredictable, irresponsible, emotionally immature, narcissistic, neglect their self-care, have difficulty sustaining healthy attachments, are full of shame, and who often value their drug of choice over their health and the welfare of their children. If you were brought up in this kind of household, it is no small wonder that you may have many of these same problems and turn to food to medicate your feelings.
Many ACOAs feel distress that, although they tried their hardest to not turn out like their addicted parent(s), they are similar to them after all. Alternately, some who have food problems but never drink or use drugs, might think that they’ve escaped the effect of being raised in an alcoholic family. However, they often have many of the same traits as their parents: trusting the wrong people, turning to chemicals (aka food) for comfort, fear of intimacy, believing they don’t need help, impulsivity, low frustration-tolerance, all-or-nothing thinking, shamed-based self-care, and low self-esteem. They also may suffer from perfectionism and a fierce desire to control their lives and the lives of others.
Were either of your parents (or whoever raised you) habituated to alcohol or drugs? If so, without blaming them, consider how their addiction affected you growing up. Think about how your problems with food and in other areas of your life are affected by their addiction. If you need help, find a therapist or join an ACOA group. Sometimes the key to improving your eating starts with confronting your ACOA issues.