Adult Children of Happy Drunks

So I’ve been reading a lot about adult children of alcoholics, due to some circumstances that have been going on in my sister-in-law’s family , which is negatively affecting my teen/young adult nephews. In any case, the stuff I’m reading explains that all the years of fear, unpredictable behaviors, broken promises, absence of control, etc take a heavy toll on kids, who carry their baggage into adulthood, the repercussions of which manifest themselves in many ways.

But what about the adult children of happy drunks? Fun loving, but often intoxicated parents who keep their shit together, don’t drive drunk & take care of their kids? Are the kids negatively impacted as well by their parents’ alcohol consumption? If so, how?

This is a serious question because I have many friends/family/coworkers in this category. They love to overindulge in the spirits, yet still get to work on time, bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, etc.

Conversely I know many others whose children live lives of unpredictable behaviors of their parents, broken promises, anger, fear, etc…but there is no alcohol involved. Usually just bad training and/or mental illness. Do children of these types of parents suffer similarly to ACA?

I grew up with a happy drunk at the helm. My Mother died young so Daddy was both to all 8 of us. We worshipped him. He took care of everything. We were fed and clothed. We had a chaotic house. That was to be expected with so many kids. We were happy. And he usually drank everyday and lived to an old age. He was well into his dotage when he died.

It was more true for my extended family than my immediate family.

I come from a large, Roman Catholic family. My grandparents (on my father’s side) had nine children, and they all lived in close proximity.

Growing up there were lots of family parties, with many of them at my grandparent’s place. The parties were alcohol-fueled fun-fests; they (sort of) reminded me of college parties. Lots of laughter and carrying-on. I started drinking beer at these parties, when I was 14.

With the exception of my grandparents, most are still alive and still live in close proximity. We still occasionally have parties (mainly Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas), but everyone is getting older and they’re a bit more tame. But there’s still lotsa drinking, and everyone is happy.

So **Beckdawrek **& Crafter_Man, so would you say that there were No negative repercussions from growing up with drunks in your case?

Glad you asked. I’m going through this right now, and so are my cousins.

Gonna be long…I’ve got 39 years of experience here and recent events to get off my chest.

My dad’s a very functional alcoholic. Six to twelve beers a day since he was probably 17 or so (he’s 67…happy anniversary?) Worked his ass off at a factory, as far as I know never missed a day. Never ever shitty to us kids. A fun guy (for others) to be around all the time. Super nice fellow.

While my mom doesn’t drink, family gatherings with her side of the family were drunk fests. But never mean, always a good time. The previous generation, I’m told, were angry drunks but always drunk-on-drunk arguments never with the kids. How nice.

My dad’s a guy who should have been in therapy his whole life for anxiety, depression and PTSD (he had a hard childhood and then went to Vietnam and is a combat vet) but never did. Alcohol is his anxiety meds.

The worst thing that ever happened to us with his drinking is when he got in to a crash while DUI when I was in my teens. Until then I was sort of blissfully unaware of the negative effects of alcohol. That event changed me remarkably but…still, life went on. Daddy drank. He was better about not drinking and driving.

I became a designated driver at the age of 16. I drove everyone to family events like weddings. My dad needed to drink to be around his (teatotaling) family so I drive us to see them while dad sips a travel mug of beer. That’s just life.

When I got to college, and through my 20s, I had anxiety issues related to alcohol. I had gotten weary of being around happy, annoying drunks. I didn’t want to be around drunks. But parties in your 20s are all about being drunk, and annoying. I noticed my dad’s own drunken annoyingness more. Some times I was a strict non-drinker and judgemental about it, then sometimes I was a casual party drinker (I’ve never developed a taste for beer). I got over my judgemental-ness about it. I never learned to enjoy alcohol or really being drunk. I did learn to just relax and act drunk and people assume you’re drunk and we all have a good time and I drive home sober.

So now I’m 39 and dad’s 67. A year or so ago my uncle, dad’s brother-in-law, was diagnosed with Korsakoff syndrome, brought on by drinking and not eating. When you’re a younger strong dude who works and eats three meals a day and have some muscle mass, your body can keep itself going despite the alcohol consumption. When you stop working and sit and drink all day, and you’re full of alcohol so you’re not hungry, you’re depleting your body and not replenishing it. You get dementia, you go to a home, you spend the rest of your life and the rest of your pension managing your dementia and sitting in a dark room not knowing what year it is. My cousins are having a tremendously hard time dealing with this - as you know, dementia is tough to deal with on its own. It’s harder to cope with when you know the person you’re trying to care for brought it on himself. With plenty of warning. Without care.

My dad hasn’t gotten to the point of dementia yet but he has taken to passing out due to extreme dehydration from doing nothing but drinking all day and not eating. He’s lost a lot of weight. His muscles are basically gone. The first few times he passed out in his small bathroom, to little fanfare. The next time he passed out was while we were on a family trip to a cabin. He fell like a stiff board right on to the floor. I had to call 911, and then drive him to the country ER to have his head looked at.

This last time, 2 weeks ago, he fell like a board on to the slab kitchen floor. Tons of blood. Ambulance ride to the ER. Ten stitches. My whole family was there, and we started the long process of making sure doctors knew how much he drank (he never, ever admits the true number), him getting lectures from doctors, and me having to explain to him how the fucking human body and nutrition work because he just doesn’t get it and just doesn’t care.

So now I’ve got a dad that’s physically wasting away, who’s putting himself at GREAT risk for dementia, nursing a concussion, learning how to eat (yep, he has no fucking clue how to actually eat - he’s been naturally skinny his whole life, never a need to think of it), who’s afraid to be alone for too long (due to passing out and general lightheadedness).

This dire medical stuff is new to the story…but also note that leading up to this, older drunk dad has not been pleasant to be around for the past 10 years or so. My brother and I have learned to take him in small doses. He has a nice afternoon window of pleasantness and productiveness but by evening he is angry and aloof. There’s a lot of nuance to this but it comes down to the alcohol wasn’t just affecting his body, it started with his mood and his demeanor.

Since he’s already on opioids (different story altogether) he’s been able to quit drinking cold turkey since the last incident. So far. My mom had a fit and tossed all the beer in the house, of course. I’ve already noticed he’s waaay more pleasant to be around in the evening. He’s “afternoon dad” all day long.

There’s still a lot of work to do. He wasn’t willing to do the work for his wife, or his kids. He’s on his last chance with his grandkids, here. Hoping he likes them more than he liked us, and can clean himself up for them and they can have good memories of him.

I guess, in summary, living as a child and then an adult child of a nice and functional alcoholic is like living on a creek bank. It’s fine every day even though it’s slowly chipping away. Then eventually the whole fucking thing erodes and you’re left with the medical ramifications of the poor choices your parent has made for 60 years. And you got to come to terms with your love for them and your disdain for their predicament.

I LOVED that my parents were happy drunks. If I ever needed money, I knew to wait until they got drunk to ask for it, because they would always say “yes”.

Actually, they let me do a lot of shit when they were drunk. When they partied, I partied! :smiley:

Being a “happy drunk” and being “someone who never gets so drunk she never gets put to bed by her daughter, while telling that daughter ‘yoooooou sooOOOoo coohicool, iiiii wuv yuuuu sooo mush!’” are two different things. My aunt was put to her bed by her daughter many times. She was also that happy drunk who at the end of every family celebration would be draped over me telling me I had to drink because I was spoiling her fun (I was also feeling really tempted to stop sliding away and punch her).

Are you interested only on “happy drunks”, only on “people who never got falling down drunk”, or on people who fulfill both?

My father was a very functional alcoholic. We were taken care of, he went to work on time and was extremely successful, etc. He was also erratic and prone to angry outbursts and unpredictable emotional attacks. I’m not sure which category you would put him in, so I won’t ramble on too much, but it had a huge impact on me then and now.

The biggest negative is alcoholism breeds alcoholics. All my sibs are drinkers. In all it’s glory. Some happy, some not so much. I don’t drink because I am a T1 diabetic. Watching from the sidelines it all seems like a lot of grief and upset for nothing.

I hesitate to call my mom an alcoholic, but she drinks probably the equivalent of 3-4 drinks a night and has most of her life. She is 75 now. It was much worse when I was in high school and college than now. She wasn’t really a happy or mean drunk. And she never neglected any of her responsibilities. I was always most concerned with her mental state and her depression. For many, many years my moods depended on her moods. That has lessened to a degree because of some therapy on my part and setting some boundaries.

Negative? I can’t think of any. Despite all of them being drinkers, everyone in my extended family was very responsible. They were all “happy” drunks, and just loved to have a good time.

While having an angry drunk as a parent is obviously worse, I would imagine even a happy drunk isn’t good. I look at somebody like Frank Gallagher or Randy Quaid’s character in Not Another Teen Movie. Ideally, a parent should be supporting their children by providing food and shelter and moral guidance. But if a parent is habitually drunk, they’re going to have diminished capacities in what they’re trying to do - and that includes being a parent.

ZipperJJ: You mentioned “anxiety issues related to alcohol”, which, if I’m understanding your post correctly, occurred before your dad’s health issues. Can you articulate exactly what caused your anxiety issues?

And if your dad’s health had never declined due to alcohol related dementia, dehydration, etc—let’s say he was hit by a bus & killed at 50, would you still have looked on his alcoholism negatively?

I’m actually interested in all of it. My SIL’s family is chock full of abusive, angry drunks and that obviously has taken a major toll on the kids in the family. But my own family is full of people with personality disorders & other psychiatric issues that IMO have taken an equally negative toll on the kids in the family. On the other hand, my husband’s side of the family is full of happy drunks & I don’t really see the same negative consequences for the offspring. Although it’s hard to imagine that it *wouldn’t *have a negative impact. So I’m trying to sort all this out in order to (try to) understand how all of this effects the family.

Everything I’ve read (and experienced) says that other types of dysfunction will have a similar effect on the children.

I know there are others who have more knowledge about this than I do:

Isn’t it true that (a) status as an alcoholic and (b) frequency/quantity-per-day of alcohol are only weakly related? That it comes down more to the “role” alcohol plays in one’s life, it’s use as a coping mechanism, etc.?

I was kind of like the parent you describe. I doubt my kids were even aware I was drinking. I quit drinking because I just wanted to start being a better person. My wife at that time, would start drinking when she came home from work, we had a normal dinner and family TV time together and then about 30 min before she was ready for bed she would want to start fighting. I got to where I would just sit and listen for 30 minutes rather than engage her and disrupt the entire house which did happen on occasion. Our kids came out great, much better than I had hoped for.

Yeah that makes sense. And it’s definitely a coping mechanism with her. But there doesn’t seem to be any longterm negatives for her. Her health is good for age, etc. So I am not sure if she is an alcoholic or not.

By the time I was college age I had realized that dad’s being drunk made him annoying and weird. Like, it’s funny when you’re 12 but after 18 years it’s annoying. Being around him when he was drunk made me anxious, not wanting to see him being annoying and weird. And I had social anxiety already (which runs in the family…obviously dad does too). So when faced with the prospect of being around a bunch of drunk people, I got super anxious as a response, even though those people weren’t my dad. I had a couple panic attacks at parties and then basically avoided social gatherings until later in my 20s.

I hate to harp on the alcohol-related disease stuff but for me that is what an ADULT child of a drunk has to go through as they age. I know there are others who have to deal with the declining health of their mean drunk parent and it’s a whole other ball of wax because those children have a lot more baggage and the parent is still a mean motherfucker. I’m pointing out that even if your parent is a lovely drunk, long-term alcohol use adds more to the story than emotional issues.

Anyway, if he’d died before this progression? Yeah. The DUI crash happened when I was in my early teens, before he was 50, and that image of seeing him laying all bandaged up is still burned in my mind. Cuz it scared the shit out of me AND I know how he got there. No matter what happened after that it would have still affected my perception of him.

Even if he died today I wouldn’t think of him as a no-good drunk and nothing but. I give him a wiiiiiiide pass on his drinking due to his PTSD. But if he died from alcohol-related disease I would be very very very angry. If he takes some initiative and cleans up now, even if he just gets to a point where he’s still drinking but eating and avoids dementia, and dies from a heart attack, we’re cool.

Just happy v mean when drunk seems to me a very narrow part of the picture. But I guess if you broaden it far enough that ‘happy drunk’ means ‘doesn’t act in any harmful way’, then the question answers itself.

But I don’t see how ‘doesn’t act irresponsibly’ necessarily fits with ‘happy drunk’. Getting in a car and driving when you’re drunk isn’t any less extremely irresponsible if you’re happy. It’s not any better for your own health and the burden that might throw on your family later on either. I guess ‘happy’ does tend to eliminate physical and verbal abuse. And those latter were certainly a big part of why it was a bummer for me to have an alcoholic dad (usually verbal, seldom physical). Him making a fool of himself in front of my friends, games with hiding the car keys, etc etc wouldn’t have been fun for me though just because he was always ‘happy’ when drunk (sometimes he was). It wouldn’t have saved him and the family dealing with later brain issues probably related in part to drinking. It would have been less bad, not harm free by long shot. Although disclaimer, I don’t view my upbringing as being that terrible overall, way worse for some. But it certainly made me strict to myself about alcohol and a nag to my kids about it, even now they’re grown up.

I sincerely doubt it. Why don’t you ask them?

My father drank and smoked pot throughout my childhood. He didn’t get angry or violent. He lost his license now and then, and/or his job. I relate to many of the other posts in this thread.

Mostly, I feel sad. Too often, I’d try to ask him something, and he’d slur a jokey answer. Once I heard that slur, I knew that I didn’t have a dad any more that evening, that he’d abdicated his responsibilities to the family.