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Hidden Wounds: The Lifelong Impact of Alcoholic Fathers

Updated: Jun 7

The effects of alcoholism have long-term effects on the whole family but its impact on daughters deserves special attention. Growing up with an alcoholic father can have severe and long lasting effects of a daughter’s emotional, psychological and social wellbeing. In this article I will explore the impact of alcoholic fathers on their daughters.

The family is the primary source of attachment, socialisation and nurturing. Attachment theory postulates that the quality of attachment style that formed in infancy will impact children’s ability to form healthy attachments with others, and will determine their susceptibility to mental health problems such as anxiety, depression or trauma.

Problems With Self-Esteem

Growing up in a home where addiction is prevalent can be emotionally overwhelming for anyone, but for daughters it often results in abiding feelings of low self-esteem. Daughters of alcoholic fathers often do not get their needs met and, as a consequence, they may develop feelings of unworthiness and being unloved.

Being constantly exposed to their father’s unpredictable behaviour, emotional volatility and broken promises can contribute to feelings of guilt, shame and sense of unworthiness.

Alcoholic Fathers and Anxiety in Daughters

All primates learn emotion regulation from their primary attachment figures through modeling and attachment system. Parents with substance use problem will most likely have their own emotional dysregulation as a result of their substance abuse. As a consequence, children and adolescents will find it difficult to regulate their emotions. This can lead to an increased risk of internalising problems like anxiety, depression or substance abuse, or externalising issues such as conduct problems, impulsivity, aggression, outbursts of anger.

Living in an environment that is characterised by constant unpredictability and chaos, daughters of alcoholic fathers may wrestle with endless worry for their father’s wellbeing. This fear, combined with emotional instability caused by addiction can lead to depression and decline of mental wellbeing.

Alcoholic Fathers and Trust Issues

Having witnessed their fathers’ lies, broken promises and emotional manipulation, daughters of alcoholic fathers may struggle with trust issues as they are guarded against any possibility of betrayal. When the trust is broken on a daily basis, daughters of alcoholic fathers can carry trust issues with them into adulthood, which will likely impact their personal and professional relationships.

Daughters of fathers with alcohol addiction may experience difficulties with forming intimate relationships. Low self-esteem and trust issues make it difficult for them to allow someone to get close enough to build a close and trusting relationship.

Alcoholic Fathers and Codependency

There is a prevalence of codependent behaviours in women with alcoholic fathers in comparison to women whose fathers did not abuse alcohol. Daughters who suffered emotional neglect as a result of their fathers’ alcoholism, often blame themselves for not feeling loved. This, combined with feelings of shame and often poor boundaries may lead to codependent behaviours in adulthood.

The impact of alcoholic fathers on wellbeing of their daughters is a complex issue that often has long-lasting consequences. Research shown that adult daughters of alcoholic fathers can experience continuous emotional and social hardships, including low self-esteem, anxiety, trust issues, codependency, resentment, problems with communication and difficulties in intimate relationships as well as an increased risk of developing addictive behaviour.

While the emotional and psychological scars may never fully heal, daughters can take steps towards healing.

How Daughters of Alcoholic Fathers Can Move Towards Healing

  1. Seeking Professional Therapy: Individual therapy provides a safe, non-judgmental space for people to express their feelings, process their experiences and learn healthy coping strategies.

  2. Joining Support Groups: Groups provide a sense of community and belonging among individuals who had similar experiences. Sharing stories and insights with others can help feel less alone and more empowered.

  3. Setting Healthy Boundaries: Clearly define what is acceptable behaviour and what is not. Boundaries protect emotional wellbeing.

  4. Self-Care: Activities such as exercising, meditation, journaling or engaging in hobbies or activities that bring joy and relaxation can help daughters of alcoholic fathers manage the emotional burden of their upbringing.

  5. Educate Oneself About Alcoholism: Expanding knowledge about addiction and learning that their fathers’ alcoholism was not their fault can contribute to letting go of feelings of guilt, shame and responsibility.

The Lifelong Impact of Alcoholic Fathers
The Lifelong Impact of Alcoholic Fathers


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