Growing up in a home where one or both parents have problems with alcohol or other substances often leaves a negative impression on a child – finances are stretched because of irresponsible spending; tempers are short; parental love, support, and guidance may be absent; physical, verbal, or sexual abuse may occur. Despite the repercussions of being raised in this type of stressful environment, research suggests that the children of alcoholics are more likely to choose an alcoholic as a lifelong partner than individuals who did not have a parent who had problems with alcohol. Why does this happen?

Feeling needed in a relationship is important to many people.

Children of alcoholics are often faced with adult-like responsibilities of caring for the alcoholic or helping the other parent do so. They often internalize this rescuing behavior because they likely received positive reinforcement every time they acted as a helper, and they probably understood the behavior to be a way of bonding with others. When the child grows up and begins to develop relationships outside the family – both friendships and romantic bonds – they often unconsciously seek out people whom they believe that they can help in some way. The most familiar type of help that they can provide is the same type of help that they provided as a child; therefore, a relationship with an alcoholic will recreate their understanding of the childhood bonding experience and will seem completely natural to them.

People tend to choose partners who affirm their sense of identity.

People come to relationships with a pre-established idea of who they are. If you believe that you deserve to be loved, respected, and valued, then you are likely to enter into a relationship with a person who loves you, respects you, and appreciates your value. In contrast, people who have low self-esteem often gravitate toward other people who reinforce their negative perception of themselves. While choosing a partner who belittles or deprecates you might not make much sense at first glance, people who do so often prefer this option than the alternative, which would require them to leave their comfort zone and explore and establish a new sense of identity.

Childhood coping strategies are still used in adulthood.

Coping strategies help people survive and interact with others; some coping strategies are positive and others are negative. Many of us still use coping strategies that we developed as a child. In the case of the children of alcoholics and addicts, some may have learned to be silent and to stay out of the way as much as possible, which probably helped them as a child. When adults retain this type of coping mechanism, they are attractive to people (like alcoholics) who want the same sort of behavior from a romantic partner.

People prefer to be around partners whose ways of interacting with others is familiar.

If your family was open about all topics, then you probably will have no problem communicating with your spouse or partner. But if your family ignored problems or was secretive, frequently argumentative, or interacted in some other negative way, then you will probably feel more comfortable in relationships that have a similar "daily routine" to the one that you grew up with. Those who had healthier home environments will also be less likely to be interested in you simply because you both speak different "interaction" languages.