Para-Addiction Stress Trauma


"The unexamined life is not worth living" - 



Are you having emotional and behavioural difficulties in recovery ?
Not addicted but find yourself in yet another relationship with an alcoholic or addict?
Not from a dysfunctional family, but have created one?
In any of the above situations, you are probably encountering emotional confusion and behavioural problems, which make your life difficult, if not hell. If you are an addict, it may even be threatening you sobriety or sanity. Below is a list of characteristics derived from research in to emotional intelligence and emotional health. The list relies heavily on the living experiences of adult children of alcoholics, children from dysfunctional families and recovering addicts and co-dependents. It identifies many of the features of emotional illness, which is characterised here as “PAST” or “Para Addiction Stress Trauma”.

I do not use the term "Adult Children of Alcoholics", because despite their great work in the field, I feel that the term is too restrictive and vague and is also tied to psuedo-religious 12 Step programmes.
I prefer to use the term “Para Addiction Stress Trauma” as it encompasses a wider area of experience and at the same time defines the condition more clearly. It concentrates on the after effects of being in an addictive and dysfunctional environment for both recovering addicts and adult children of addicts and non-addicted co-dependents. It may also overlap with the experiences of being in a cult or sect (including psychotherapy and self-help sects), which can compound the psychological problems for alcohol and drug recoverers (see Recovery Cultism)  

Furthermore, by using the term “PAST”  I wish to focus, not on the ongoing addiction, (which is a separate but connected issue) but, instead, on the still present psychological, emotional and behavioural problems caused by growing up in an addictive and dysfunctional environment. You may believe that your family was not dysfunctional and that can be true. However, if you are an addict, you will have created a dysfunction family or relationships around you. And you and your partners will need to recover emotionally from this. 

Other people who are co-dependent or addictive disorder sufferers, may also initially claim their families to be "normal" or not dysfunctional. This could be true, but it is often a form of "denial". We need to keep the illusion of the sacred family and defend it before the world and ourselves, thus hiding things and perpetuating personal problems. Probably most co-dependents and alcoholics and addicts, as well as many people suffering other addictive and obsessive compulsive disorders come from dysfunctional families, where alcohol, illegal or legal drug addiction and obsessive compulsive behaviours were present. Even extreme religious environments seem to have the same effect. You may even have to dig to your grandparents to find the problem, which was then passed down in a para-addictive behaviours in your sober family, which then passed onto you and your current unhappiness as an adult child of alcoholics, addicts, dysfunctional parents or as a co-dependent or alcoholic and addict yourself.    

People with these symptoms may or may not have become substance abusers, but can suffer from compulsive obsessive disorders, gambling addiction, eating disorders and/or suffer with emotional ill-health, manifested in the symptoms below, as well as in depression, bi-polar disorder, neurosis, anxiety and panic attacks and social problems. 

The terms “stress" and "trauma” are used because the emotional suffering caused by addiction is comparable to the effects of physical or psychological shocks of a violent nature. Many addictive and dysfunctional homes are indeed violent. Others may not be physically violent, but are just as psychologically violent. The innocent, confused child depends on the parents for physical survival and can interpret the crises of addictive and dysfunction homes as life threatening situations, which then cause trauma and severe emotional damage that can last for life.

If you are an alcoholic or addict, you maybe thinking, “this has nothing to do with me. This is for relations of alcoholics”. You can be wrong!  Probably a majority of alcoholics come from alcoholic homes or dysfunctional families. At some point you will need to face these issues, in order to be free of them and help strengthen your sobriety. 

However, a word of warning, you may feel unready to face these isues now. And you may be right. You have to face them when you feel ready and strong enough. Trying to early could even cause emotional upheaval that might threaten a tender sobriety.

If you are an alcoholic or addict, you will have quite rightly been concentrating on just staying sober yourself. That remains the priority! But you may be few years sober, feeling lots better, but still not really comfortable or happy in sobriety. Probably, you haven’t given your family much thought or have just noted the fact that your father or mother was a drunk or addict. While it is necessary to take personal responsibility for our own addiction and recovery, failure to see the whole picture, always leaves us living with one eye shut.

Because of this we sober alcoholics and clean addicts still often seems to walk through life bumping into things and people. Despite being sober, our relations with ourselves and others is difficult and unhappy. Some of us actually slip into relapse because we haven’t faced up to the effects of our upbringing, not only on their addiction, but also on their addictive behaviours, patterns of thought and emotional ill-health, which continue after becoming abstinent.

Surprisingly, many alcoholics and addicts, who have acknowledged and accepted their own addiction, still spend years in denial about their families. You might want to take another look at the family. Realizing they were really alcoholic, addicts or dysfunctional in some way, can be something of a shock and but, with support, it can be of enormous benefit.  

Breaking the family denial can be a revelation, which gives people a richer and fuller understanding of their thoughts, feelings and behaviours. It can help you to identify and change things and, thus, provide you with a safer and more comfortable sobriety and life.

Thanks should go to Adult Children Of Alcoholics for their enormous contribution to this subject and authors like Janet Geringer Woititz and Wayne Kritsberg, whose pioneering work opened whole new areas and saved many lives. It is well worth reading their books which contain great insights and suggestions for coping and recovering. Some are 12 Step orientated, but are valuable nonetheless.

When you read through the symptoms, you don't not have to have all of them in order to suffer Para-Addictive Stress Trauma. We are all different and have variations. You may also find that many “normal” people can feel and act this way also from time to time, and you are right. Non-addicted people can also suffer emotional ill health at different periods. For sufferers of PAST, it is a question of the degree and character of the ailment, which characterizes whether you are emotionally unwell as a product of an alcoholic, addictive or dysfunctional family. Some answers may also seem contradictory, but that is how we are!  

Recognising problems is the first step to overcoming them. But don't do it alone. If you feel you these characteristics are similar to your own experiences and feelings, then   discuss it with your group, join one or start one and also seek professional help and guidance. 












I judge and criticize myself mercilessly

I am always the one I consider
responsible, if things go wrong.

I blame myself first automatically

I find it difficult to be comfortable with who I am

I feel self-hate and out of control, after I have acted impulsively

I don’t feel my life is worth anything   

Emotional Self-Awareness
I am often confused about what I am feeling

I am unsure about what the emotion is when it comes up

I get upset or confused by things which don’t seem to affect others

I’m often unsure about is causing an emotion or what I am feeling

I don’t know how to put feelings and emotions into words

I sometimes feel “at the mercy” of my emotions

I tend to keep tight control of my emotions

I can explode suddenly

I get angry, sad, feel, lonely, resentful and distrustful without good reason

Faced with crises I seem to shut down and go numb   

I have difficulty expressing my feelings

I bottle up feeling and sometimes they suddenly explode

I have difficulty asking for things for myself

I feel uncomfortable or unsure about expressing my thoughts

I have difficultly defending my rights in a non-aggressive manner

I often feel self-conscious

I can become abusive or aggressive over some small things, especially the way I’m treated 

I sometimes stay quiet when being abused.

I often let people take advantage of me

I’m often not sure what to say and feel

I often don’t know what I want

I give in easily to the pressure of others

I don’t know how to say “no” without great pain

I am afraid to say “no” and be exposed

I tend to want to live up to others expectations

I lack clear personal goals and aims

I have difficulty deciding what is in my own interest

I allow my partner to dictate whether I feel good or not

I have trouble separating myself from my work

I take my work or other responsibilities more seriously than I do myself

I seem to be, what I do

I have lots of wonderful projects I mean to do, but never start.

Something always has to be done first, then I might do the big thing

I start many wonderful projects but never see them through to the end

I feel my life and activities lack purpose or meaning

I rarely feel satisfied with myself, even when I achieve something great.

I will do all, or nothing

I don’t know my own limitations or those of others

I am unrealistic about my capacities

I give up just when I succeed, or throw it all away when I get there 


I often miscalculate others’ feelings or intentions

I often tune-out from people around me

I am not good listener and switch off easily

I can be both, hypersensitive or totally insensitive, to others

I look for the bad in people first

I attribute negative and bad feelings and motivations to other people

I distrust others   


Social Responsibility
I can be totally committed to a group or suddenly absent

I am always there or suddenly not

I have difficulty saying no and explaining why

I say no and give no explanation

I can abuse or take advantage of a group

I find it as easy or easier to lie rather than tell the truth

I can always find good rationalisation for dishonesty, even in my recovery group

I often renege on commitments and appointments and lie

I am either super responsible or totally irresponsible   


Interpersonal Relationships
I have difficulty being intimate or with intimate relationships in general

I feel there is always something missing in my relationship or myself

I tend to feel loved one day and rejected the next

I fear abandonment and hurt, but also provoke or seek it

I imagine separation or divorce from the smallest of disagreements

I receive affection with difficulty

I often get nervous about new social encounters

I need approval and affirmation, but don’t take compliments seriously

I worry about my self-image and, then, say I don’t care at all

I feel somehow different to and isolated from other people, even those in my recovery group

I am super loyal even when it isn’t deserved

I stay loyal to relationships longer than needed or even when against my interests




"The Adult Children of Alcoholics Syndrome" by Wayne Kritsberg, Bantam Books

"The Drama of Being a Child" by Alice Miller, Virago Books

"Adult Children of Alcoholics" Janet Geringer Woititz, 
Health Communications, Inc.

"Toxic Parents"


Dr Susan Forward,
Bantam Books


Sense of Reality
I seem to misjudge situations or take extreme views of them

I tend to look for problems or see things in a negative light

I always try to imagine the worst

I spend a lot of time daydreaming and fantasizing

I often automatically overreact to small things

I can be cool in front of big crises

I tend to see things in black and white

I can let emotions overwhelm my perception of situations

I often withdraw or want to withdraw from the outside world

I guess at what “normal” is

I attempt to act normally with others

I copy what I think is appropriate for situations and people

I often put my foot in it, but don’t really know why

I think I see through people, but don’t trust my judgment

My life seems to move from one crisis to another   

I react in patterns to people and situations

I tend to think, feel, behave and react in set ways

I am highly elastic and then suddenly snap

I am able to suddenly adapt to unfamiliar and unpredictable situations

I can get fixed and obsessive about an idea   

Problem Solving  
I often jump to solutions, which are too exaggerated

I often try to avoid tackling problems before it’s too late

I get lost in the pros and cons of how to solve things

I lack patience in dealing with problems and reach for the sledgehammer

I suffer from indecision

I can often act compulsively, instead of waiting   


Stress Tolerance  
I often get nervous, anxious or agitated

I feel overwhelmed by things

I often feel helpless of hopeless

I have difficulty sleeping

I dwell on things and mull them over

I tend to get emotional internally or externally with problems

I difficulty judging what the best course of action is

I imagine the worst outcome first

I feel things are often out of my control

I seem to be in a state of constant alert to everything around me

Impulse Control  
I am often impatient

I often look back and realise I overreacted

I have difficulty controlling my emotions and the subsequent behaviours

I tend to act first and think later

I get frustrated easily

I can be abusive and unpredictable

I view many thing as urgent, to be done and finished now, when they are not

I am always impatient with people, things and myself

I get overwhelmed by an emotion and can’t stop to think

I commit to things too quickly and get locked into commitments I regret

I have to clean up lots of messes   


I tend to look on the darker side of life

I am generally pessimistic

I am often depressed

When something is going well I expect it to turn bad   

I am dissatisfied with my life

I get little satisfaction from life

I have few hobbies or interests

I don’t know how to have fun

I watch others having fun and don’t really understand it

I don’t know how to “let my hair down”

I worry about the future

I prefer to be alone or with only certain people

I lack drive and enthusiasm

So what to do now? If you feel you have many of theses symptoms, then you should seek medical advice. If you are in SOS or another self-help group you may want to discuss with other members to see if they are also suffering and interested. You might want to form an extra group to discuss and deal with these issues, 
like SOS ACT (Addictive Stress Trauma) or SOS Survivors or something else. This could comprise of non-addicted adult children of alcoholics/addicts/obsessive-
compulsives or dysfunctional families, as well as co-dependents and those recovering from alcoholism and other addictive disorders who grew up in such homes.

However, again a word of warning. It is advised that where former alcoholics and addicts are concerned, such groups should not be open to the newly sober. Newly sober people have to concentrate on kicking addiction and remaining abstinent. There is a danger in exploring these issues that an early sobrietist could be unbalanced by the emotional issues which can arise. If you are such a person reading this, it is advised that you put the issue to one side for the moment and get on with concretizing your sobriety. Facing these issues too soon can be like trying to run with a broken leg in plaster. Therefore, it is better to have 3-5 years total abstinence before tackling these issues. 

You may also wish to go to Adult Children of Alcoholics or Al-Anon meetings, which are good forums for learning about the problem and discussing. Some maybe less rigid than AA, but generally they do follow 12 Steps and Higher Power concepts.

In the coming weeks a number of articles will appear on the web site dealing more deeply with aspects of the problem and suggestions for overcoming it.
















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