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Posted by on in Co-dependency



The term “infinite loop” comes from the field of computer science and refers to a programming error that leads to the perpetual and unsuccessful recapitulation of an algorithm, or problem-solving procedure. In my book Adult Children of Alcoholics: The Struggle for Self and intimacy in Adult Life, I used this concept as a metaphor for the way in which many adult children seem irresistibly drawn to an “alcoholic lifestyle”.  The alcoholic lifestyle can include compulsive drinking and drugging, ongoing destructive involvements with addicted or enabling parents, and the acquisition of new life partners who reprise important psychic themes of the childhood home, including instability, exploitation, dishonesty, and betrayal.

In recent posts, I’ve talked about genetics, trauma,  and substance-related  changes in the brain as the “usual suspects” behind many addictive problems.  They are also frequently the culprits when adult children–even those who avoid substance abuse and dependence–remain ensnared in the destructive and painful relational dynamics they experienced as children. It is well-known that genetics affect temperament as well as risk for mental illness and substance abuse and addiction.  But environmental factors such as stress and trauma are also powerful factors that influence the development and maintenance of an alcoholic lifestyle.  This is the first in a series of posts aimed at helping ACOA’s with an alcoholic lifestyle  to exit their infinite loop, and it explains how trauma-related changes to the brain predispose them to become mired in it.

It is important to know that many adults who grew up with addicted and  codependent parents, whether or not they abuse substances themselves,   manifest brain anomalies that can predispose them to a variety of psychological problems, such as  depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress and compulsive involvement with substances, activities and destructive partners. These changes occur as a result  of chronic and severe levels of stress that so often occur in families where parents are preoccupied and propelled by the disease of addiction. The neurological impact of  the physical and verbal abuse and neglect that are common in alcoholic families can be seen  when imaging studies of the brain are performed, and they occur in some of the same  areas of the brain that are affected by drug and alcohol abuse.  For a good discussion of how adverse childhood events (ACEs) affect the brain, see this article: /


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