Alcohol misuse and attachments

Time moves on and my granddaughter is now independently mobile and endlessly curious about how things work knowing she can return safely to her parents, or other trusted carers, for security and love.

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This time I consider the possible effects on a child’s development where one or both parents have a relationship with alcohol that is unhealthy and disruptive of family life.

My focus is on alcohol misuse as this is widely available and often there is an assumption that for an individual to be considered an “alcoholic” it is implied that they drink morning, noon and night. This is a problematic characterisation as alcohol misuse within the family system can take many forms, the common denominator being that if alcohol disrupts relationships and affects the family in terms of employment, debt and security of housing then there is an issue to be addressed and acknowledged. In the UK, there is also a cultural ambivalence to what is and is not considered a problematic relationship with alcohol.

The importance of attachment to a primary caregiver is to provide the baby and growing child with a sense of safety and a relationship that gives security, love and comfort.  The child internalises this relationship which provides validation, self-esteem and trust. Where one or both parents are inconsistent in their relationship with the child, this can disrupt the attachment process. A parent who is often impaired by alcohol is unable to provide that level of safety and stability and there may be conflict in the family which has a negative psychological impact on the child in terms of modelling a positive approach to conflict resolution.

As the focus shifts to the abuser of alcohol, so the growing child may lose their connection with their own needs and may struggle to understand and articulate them. Low-grade and continuous anxiety may lead to traumatic responses that materialise in childhood and persist into adulthood. This could include not being able to connect with feelings and emotions and anxiety triggered by perceived chaos or disorganisation. 
 
Often the effects of alcohol misuse on the family are so subtle and unacknowledged that it’s difficult to articulate these childhood experiences and their effects. It may not be until adulthood that the ‘child’ becomes aware of the psychological impact of disrupted and inconsistent parenting from one or both parents due to their misuse of alcohol, as within these relationships will be experiences of chaos, insecurity, blame, confusion, an inability to trust, a lack of self-esteem and a profound sense of abandonment.


How counselling can help

The counselling process can help repair these broken attachments by starting with validation of the adult child’s experiences and by acknowledging the many feelings and emotions associated with a parent’s alcohol misuse, including secrecy, shame, stigma, anger, anxiety, insecurity and many more.

Person-centred counselling can offer a safe and supportive space for individuals to explore these experiences and foster a sense of self and healing, it can offer a safe space to seek and understand the change you are looking for.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Chichester PO19
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Written by Fiona Heard, BA (Hons) Humanistic Counselling
Chichester PO19

I have a genuine passion for understanding others and creating a safe and supportive environment. I will be by your side on your personal journey of self-exploration and growth. I believe that a strong rapport is important in counselling as it allows for a trusting relationship to develop along with feelings of connectedness and validation.

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