#134 – Episode 134 – Adult Children of Alcoholics with Dr. Claudia Black


Veronica interviews world-renowned expert Dr. Claudia Black on the impact addiction has on children. Dr. Black outlines how adverse childhood experiences can manifest themselves in adulthood, how to recognize if this is your experience and how to change it. She also outlines what a functioning family looks like.

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What This Episode Is About

Today we’re looking at a topic that I don’t feel is talked about enough: how a parent’s addiction affects children throughout their lives.

I’m joined by Dr. Claudia Black, a world-renowned expert on addiction and codependency and the author of It Will Never Happen to Me: Growing Up with Addiction as Youngsters, Adolescents, Adults.

Children simply don’t get enough support when they are affected by the adults around them using alcohol and drugs.

Dr. Black shares that when she first wrote her book many years ago, this issue wasn’t recognized at all, but even now, much-needed interventions for these children are still absent.

Many of these young people have an ability to look good to the outside world and because of that we simply pat them on the back for doing so well, in spite of. – Dr. Claudia Black

In my work, I’ve found that a lot of my clients are adult children of alcoholics (ACOA). Growing up around adults with addiction has a deep, long-term impact on children. Many ACOA develop an internalized sense of shame because of the constant fear they experienced and this leads to a pervasive sense of loneliness.

Despite the strength and resilience that comes from growing up in difficult family systems, ACOA are more likely to have addiction themselves, get into a committed relationship with someone who has an addiction and is more prone to depression and anxiety showing up in their adult life.

The things that happened to you when you were 10 shape your whole life. – Veronica Valli

Your childhood experiences set the foundation for your beliefs and skills as an adult. Children raised by adults struggling with addiction themselves are left with negative and painful beliefs which are made worse by the fact that they were not taught healthy coping, relationship, and problem-solving skills.

When you’re old enough to go out into the world on your own, you carry those core beliefs and lack of skills with you and they’re going to fuel your behaviour and performance in every area of your adult life. On top of that, through Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) research, we now know that these experiences also can have a massive impact on people’s physical health.

We learn to minimise, discount and rationalise because that’s what brought us safety at 5, 10, 15 years of age. – Dr. Claudia Black

Despite that, we’re the first ones to minimize our issues and avoid asking for help. We often don’t even realize the effect that our history has on us. But being so hard on ourselves just compounds the issues and ends with us falling into dark places where we feel the need to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs.

I’m of the opinion that if we can prevent most childhood trauma, we would solve most of our problems in our world. – Veronica Valli

When we think of childhood trauma, we think about things like childhood sexual abuse, or physical violence, which of course are extremely traumatic, but they aren’t the only factors. Oftentimes it’s much more subtle.

During our childhood, we’re developing our sense of worth and identity. Not having your emotional needs met, living in a family where nobody notices you, the way that you’re spoken to, all of those are traumatic experiences for a child who is experiencing that regularly. They keep reinforcing the message that you don’t matter.

Addressing the traumatic stress and how that’s been internalised is going to be critical to a healthy recovery and treatment process. – Dr. Claudia Black

A functional family system is one where there’s a healthy distinction between parent and child and children are treated in an age-appropriate way. That means the expectations set on them are fair, adults are modelling healthy emotional expression, and there are healthy communication and attention.

Unhealthy parenting is on a chronic basis so we need to be compassionate with ourselves in this process. – Dr. Claudia Black

Being raised in an addictive home, you had no model for healthy parenting. The best thing we can do for our children is to pick up healthy resources like parenting books or my personal favourite, the work of Dr. Laura Markham.

Healing and recovery start with awareness, which is essential for validating your experiences. Reach out and ask for help.

There’s nothing that’s going to trigger you more than being a parent yourself. – Dr. Claudia Black

In the episode, Dr. Black shares more about how you can heal from the childhood trauma you experienced as a child in an addictive home, where to start setting up yourself to have better skills with your children and recognizing your strengths.

It can be a difficult and painful process but it’s still easier than running and numbing from it.

Dr. Black wants everyone who is struggling to know that by finding recovery you’ve modelled two things for your kids that can never be taken away: that it’s okay to ask for help and that people can change. Don’t ever underestimate the impact that ultimately can have on the people that you care about.


About Dr. Claudia Black

Claudia Black, PhD is a world-renowned expert on addiction and codependency, best-selling author, and trainer internationally recognized for her pioneering and contemporary work with family systems and addictive disorders. Since the 1970s, Dr. Black’s work has encompassed the impact of addiction on young and adult children. Her writings and teachings have become a standard in the field of addictions. Claudia holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in Social Psychology from Columbia Pacific University, and a Masters Degree in Social Work from the University of Washington. Claudia is the Clinical Architect of the Claudia Black Center for Young Adults, a Senior Fellow, and Addiction and Trauma Program Specialist at The Meadows Treatment Center in Arizona.

Claudia is one of the original founders and serves on the Advisory Board for the National Association of Children of Alcoholics and the Advisory Council of the Eluna Foundation and its development of Camp Mariposa, a camp for children impacted by addiction. She serves on the Advisory Board for the National Association of Children of Alcoholics and the Advisory Council of the Eluna Foundation.

Connect with Dr. Claudia Black

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