Further Reading

Is there a statute of limitations on inherited influences from alcoholics?

Dear Stanton:

I have done much reading on ACOAs because I am the daughter of an alcoholic. My father died from alcoholism. However, my question is this: How far back in generations can one say an individual is affected by one's alcoholism? My partner tends to see me as the one with all the "dysfunctional" issues because I speak openly about my father's alcoholism. However, although my husband's parents did not drink, his mother's father (husband's grandfather) was an alcoholic. I certainly see the alcoholic traits carried over into my husband's family, but because he was not raised in an alcoholic environment, he believes he was not affected. Can you give me some feedback on this?

Thanks,
Deb


Dear Deb:

Of course, you are saying that you have not inherited alcoholism, but were affected by it in your family. This raises the question, "Is there a statute of limitations on the impact of an alcoholic inheritance on your personality?" This begs the first question, "Do offspring of alcoholics differ significantly from other people?" There is little to no evidence that this is the case. I can quote Donald Goodwin, the man renowned for identifying the inheritance of alcoholism (a finding that has been soundly questioned in itself, when he said, "Adult children of alcoholics are about like adult children of everybody else with a problem."

Nonetheless, ACOA has become an industry. Again quoting Goodwin, "Therapists invented the concept that adult children of alcoholics have special problems that can be treated by therapy. . . . it was a way for therapists to tap into new markets and make money." At what point can you say that you are a human being who must deal with his or her problems without referring to the mental health of now dead, and perhaps quite distant, relatives? You seem to be approaching this limit by identifying the impact of your husband's maternal grandfather's alcoholism on his family and, thereby, on him. In other words, you are claiming a person without alcoholic parents or siblings has ACOA problems.

Every family is a war between two people arriving with different family cultures. You tend to accept as normal your family's peculiarities, while you quickly perceive how strange are the traits in your spouse's clan. ACOA is one way to package and label these conflicts—"You're acting out your family's alcoholism." Is this the most profitable way to process differences in your relationship? In other words, do you have a gripe about your husband's attitudes and behavior which you would like to confront? Why not lay it on the table without any additional baggage. It may actually be that your father's alcoholism simply gives your husband an opportunity to lay family conflicts at your feet, without taking any responsibility for his role in them.

Best,
Stanton