ADHD Symptoms / Adults who grew up with an Alcoholic parent


I wanted to throw out some thoughts I had about all this info we see about adhd and it's effects on adults / relationships, life and work.  Has anyone on this site made the connection between Alcoholism /  the hereditary nature of Alcohol abuse and adhd and the complex woven fabric of family upbringing and current behavior of ADHD individuals that might be more related to the actual effects of parental alcoholism than the adhd disorder itself?  That might have been confusing, so let me break it down.

We all know that there is a connection to substance abuse/alcoholism tendencies in individuals with adhd. 

We all know that alcoholism is something that tends to run in families/genetics.

We all have our lists of symptoms and effects of ADHD on work, relationships, self-esteem, life, so on.....

I question if people are as aware that growing up in a home where a parent was an alcoholic/abusive ALSO has it's set up long-term symptoms/complications.

My question for people with ADHD and their spouses:

Have those with ADHD who were brought up in a household where a parent had an addiction and/or was abusive, aware that just that factor itself may be a large contributing and underlying problem with responsibility/self-esteem/relationships, life?     As if ADHD itself isn't complicated enough... I wonder if those who have this kind of history (and I'm guessing that there may be a lot of them since there is this connection between substance abuse/alcoholism and adhd and genetics) know there are likely other factors that are contributing to the problems/treatment (are we quick to blame it all on the adhd when the problems could be as a result of growing up in a dysfunctional family?) .   

I bring this up because I have been dealing with an adhd spouse for 12 years now... have had very little success in any progress with his disorder - then I had a "aha" moment when I began to factor in that his Dad was an alcoholic... possibly abusive.    When I began reading some articles online about growing up in a home with an alcoholic parent, I all of a sudden realized that my spouse closely fit some of what the site noted as the long-term complications of that and also that many of the symptoms cross-check with adhd symptoms.     There is this and many other articles available on the topic.      When people come to the site asking for help with their adhd or their adhd spouses... should one of the things we ask if the person grew up in a home with an alcoholic/abusive parent/  While this is incredibly personal a question... it seems to me that it is highly relevant and integral to being able to help someone if left out.     I'm highly hoping Melissa could comment on this one...  I think this could possibly really help a lot of people.


I think that my spouse's

I think that my spouse's family of origin was and is somewhat dysfunctional.  His father is very controlling and self centered and his mother is (or was, before she developed Alzheimer's disease) passive.  My father-in-law does not model good behavior toward one's spouse, and so I think that is one source of my husband's difficulty with being an attentive spouse and partner.

Growing up...

I am an ADDer who spent 10+ years with a verbally abusive step-father. My mom has had alcohol problems twice in her life, my dad has always drank, but never had a problem with alcohol. My self-esteem was pretty much crushed by the A-Hole step-dad, who drank quite a bit and since I have learned more about ADD I suspect he is ADD too. I have always feared addiction, so I have kept my alcohol in check. Since I was diagnosed about 3 years ago and began my Adderall treatment I hardly feel like drinking at all. 

my spouse also was abused,

My spouse also grew up in an abusive home,very abusive,his mother was an adulterer, and made him out of wed luck, and he was brought up by his step dad of whom knew of the cheating and he was abused bad by this by the non ADHD step father and the ADHD mother,sad!!,not so sure about the alcohol,but,if ADHD is genetic,then all homes of ADHD families would be abusive?am I right? unless one can control abusive behaviors with getting necessary help!

ADD and abuse

I don't know for sure that my ex-step dad was ADD. He certainly fits the mold. Very slick, people loved him, he was charming, the women loved him, he was in the car business on the finance side, we moved a lot, he finally got caught cheating and my mom left him. I knew I would never be like that guy. I have never been abusive, but definitely has trouble staying in a relationship before my DW. Learning about my ADD has certainly helped me understand my struggles. Knowledge and Adderall have changed my life.

keep it up,

keep it up YYZ,I am very happy to hear that you found that balance,I on the other hand is trying very hard to find the balance for my ADHD husband and myself, but things have been looking very scary lately.We might not last.


Thank you

You have to take care of yourself first. Your DH must own his ADD and work on correcting it's damage. Take care of yourself and I hope things improve for you soon.

Dealing with your past, success for the future.

YYZ,  you are the perfect model to give me hope because by your words, you show that you have dealt with your past and are not letting that get in the way of being successful in your future.   The fact that you can look back and evaluate while continually moving forward shows your strength.   Wish everyone could go that route.  Would it be too personal to ask if you ever had therapy to help you through all that as part of a treatment, or did you simply figure it all out on your own?

Thank you tjair :)

I am FAR from perfect, believe me... As far as communication goes, I'm 40 years behind everyone else. Just having clarity of thought and having a good chance at real-time conflict resolution sure helps. When my psychiatrist suggested ADD, I looked at him like he was crazy. Then he had me read "You Mean I'm Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy" and light bulbs started popping off all over the place. I had 5 or 6 sessions with a psychologist but we really mainly talked about the trust I broke with my DW when I spoke to another woman about my troubles. (She was a friend only) and about how to deal with my DW's long time anger issues. We did not ever talk to much about the ADD. We did talk about my my A-Hole X Step-Dad as well. I think the ADD information was like a road map for me and I felt like I was late the the party. The last three years have been full of ups and downs, but we are still hanging in there. My DW still has hardly done any reading about ADD and still does not think it had anything to do with our problems...

I been Hell-Bent on figuring this ADD thing out. Everybody wins, if you ask me... Especially if you have to deal with me ;)

Treat the past first, then deal with the "now"

I really appreciate you all coming forward with your insight/honesty.  This is a really tough subject to bring up... something no one really wants to really bring up and expose.  But the unfortunate truth is, I really think this factor is a BIG part of a person's ability to get a handle of their ADHD as well as be successful in their personal relationships. 

I had been just wracking my brain wondering why some people who finally get the "aha" moment in their lives when they get their diagnosis - there seems to be 2 distinct paths after this.  I've so often read about or talked to some people who upon their diagnosis, educate themselves about their disorder, address their symptoms and being able to significantly improve their situation.  Then I see my situation and read the overwhelming posts from many adhd people or their frustrated spouses who just can't figure out why some people just don't seem to be able to make progress.  I'm beginning to think it may be mostly determined by their upbringing and what they learned growing up of what is a normal and acceptable way to handle challenges, conflict, relationships with others, and what general respect for others and yourself is in your world.

If you were brought up within a very dysfunctional family setting (substance abuse, alcoholism, addictions, verbal/physical abuse)  where all those things you need to learn to be successful as an adult in a relationship are flawed..... and that person hasn't dealt with the emotional and psychological scars and flawed perceptions of what a loving and respectful relationship is SUPPOSED to be .... ADHD or not, you can't possibly be successful in treating the adhd (within a relationship) when the intrinsic ability to work with another person to solve conflict and respectfully solve problems is very weak or does not exist at all.  In many cases I bet, they were never taught or learned how ... and were exposed to many relationship defeating behaviors and reactions.  Then, many of us are just sitting around confused and bewildered because we're trying to do everything right and it's not working, because the treatment has to go far back to the individuals childhood to see if the building blocks even exist to yet try.   I've never actually asked much about my husband's upbringing... he lets on every now and again a little tidbit of info... always negative and sad, about his alcoholic father, and so I was always afraid to go there as I felt it would just bring up bad memories and feelings and there was a reason why he hasn't given up much about it.   I'm beginning to think his father destroyed his ability to understand how to operate in a loving relationship, and this is where we keep hitting a stalemate.

I'm wondering if people like me should first throw out trying to treat the adhd and have a very honest discussion with our spouses about how respectful, loving people treat each other in a relationship and how they solve conflict/work out differences (and maybe talk about your own parents good/bad examples and our perceptions of those growing up to learn what they experienced).  Then, make up a list of do's and don'ts that is agreed on with contributions by both partners, and, agree to BOTH follow that list - no exceptions... and have a process ready that is agreed upon that you do when someone does not follow the guidelines.   Once we have time to work on this and hopefully make progress here, then we can address the adhd symptoms in the same way (once we have learned to more respectfully treat each other and solve conflicts).    Guess I'll try this route, I'll let you know how it goes.  If anyone else is thinking the above may also apply to them, maybe you could try this as well and let me know how it goes for you.  Sadly enough, for those of us who have spouses who simply can't understand or agree upon how to respectfully and lovingly function in a relationship, adhd or not, the relationship can't survive.  This will be the determining factor of the possibility of success/hope and failure. 

Wonderful Topic!

tjair, thanks so much for starting this thread.

Without the whole back story (most of it has been said here by others!), I'm going to jump right in now...

I'm the non-ADHDer in the relationship. My partner and I have been together for 6 years, and "married" (domestic partnership from the East Coast) for 2. We're now separated while he "works on himself" and I address my issues. (He's being a complete poop head about his work - selfish, partying, avoiding, blaming...  see a pattern?)

Over a year ago when he was diagnosed, I visited his counselor (he was there) who diagnosed ME with ADHD as well. It was a great relief - something we could both "connect" around. Fast forward a year later, I have since had my diagnosis removed and replaced with complex PTSD (little "t"). My hypervigilance, unrest, memory, cognition, etc. was mostly due to a LOT of unresolved grief issues as well as having grown up in a less-that-perfect home. (Yes, I love my parents both VERY much, and it's my own brain that stored experiences a trauma - childhood was great, but apparently my brain wants PERFECTION! tee hee)

I now know that both of my parents' growing up in an alcoholic system complicated my "formative years" and here I am. They only did what they knew, right? No shame, no blame. They were good enough to raise a son who knew to get his butt to therapy. :) 

I'm now wrapping up month 4 of EMDR therapy, and, WOW - what a difference!  I can actually walk away from my partner and not have my "abandonment" triggers hit. Well, not so much that I have the same old reaction anyway. Al-Anon has helped a great deal, too.

About the ADHDer in my life, though...  I've often wondered, based on my own experience, about how undiagnosed PTSD complicates an ADHD brain. My T has been very indulgent in those conversations with me, and there's a good amount of research that suggest just that - ADHD is complicated by trauma. Let me make sure that this is clear here, though -- I do NOT believe that ADHD is a result of trauma, nor does my T.

So, if we take the theory that we're perfect coming out of the womb and then life starts to mess with our head, how can growing up in an alcoholic system NOT impact anyone, for that matter? That is, have those "less-than-perfet" moments stored as trauma or something to deal with later in life? Especially someone who has executive function issues?

My partner's story is his to tell, but I certainly would not want to be carrying that around. Uber dysfunctional and abusive on many levels. I believe that it's his experience form being young that is self-defeating in being in a close, healthy intimate relationship as you said, tjair. (They never learned HOW, let alone that is was okay to love and trust.)

Most everything I've learned about my DP's childhood (and adulthood, for that matter!) has been a result of hearing it from his family. He wouldn't talk about it, either. Every trip down memory lane with him was cheery and full of fun, but I have a hard time putting that entire picture together in my head based on what else I've come to learn.

I think you're approach, consideration, research, and concern is admirable, tjair. Quite supportive and loving. I often question my DP T's approach of waiting to deal with some of the big issue. Granted, he does need to earn money, build self-esteem, and feed himself now that I'm gone, but what's the plan? To ask him to keep going through life as a shell of a person? Oye...  that sounds HORRIBLE. Especially after finding myself here as a result of EMDR. Hard to watch someone you love and want to live a full life not do that "hard" work.

So, tjair, bravo to you and thanks for this thread. I am a big believer that understanding is the key to making things manageable and easier to face. Something about both my and my DP's ADHD diagnosis didn't sit right with me, so I dug into HIS history and found out it had more to do with my own. So, I hit my recovery path and am very glad I did.