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"These children are more at risk for alcoholism and other drug abuse than are children of non-alcoholics, and more at risk of marrying an alcoholic as well." Overcoming the legacy of a parent's alcoholism may be difficult in part because there is a long history of denial.

"The family is dominated by the presence and denial of alcoholism, which becomes a major family secret," says Brown, today director of the Addictions Institute in Menlo Park, California.

I thought for sure that once I filled them in on all of the sordid details my all access pass to the cool club would be revoked and I would be left to wade through the dramas of adolescence alone.

I was surprised and secretly relieved when it appeared that my friends were hardly fazed by the details I shared.

This fear is present because you never clearly established your sense of self while you were growing into adulthood.

The early messages that you received from your parents were very confusing.

The secret becomes a governing principle required to hold the family together, the scaffolding for coping strategies and shared beliefs, without which the family might fall apart.

I’d bury myself into my computer screen hoping to not be noticed. I started to take an honest look and seek answers to those questions. However, he had deep, unresolved pain that he numbed with the bottle. The most startling realization though was that, although I didn’t drink, I could still be passing on these effects to my children; mainly in what I was modeling.

Not only is the experience devastating, it's common, says Stephanie Brown, founder of the Alcohol Clinic at Stanford Medical Center, where she formulated the developmental model of alcohol recovery.

Seventy-six million Americans (about 45 percent of the U. population) have been exposed to alcoholism in the family in one way or another, and an estimated 26.8 million of them are children.

The only thing to do was to look at others and try to figure out the typical family life. Giving up control could send life into chaos so there is normally an overreaction to maintain it.

It makes it tough to trust your own opinion and develop a strong sense of identity. Many ACOAs have not received much affirmation, so they are in desperate need.

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