The Connection Between Emotional Eating and Having Substance-Abusing Parents

Juanita Ecker


Most often if we struggle with emotional eating, we can recognize the problematic symptoms right away. We feel the frustration and guilt that comes with the habitual cycle of losing control. It’s not lost on us that we may have an annoying eating habit. However, the cause of the annoying eating habit may be a little bit more difficult to recognize; And how can we fix something if we don’t know what’s actually broken?

A common cause of emotional eating

I had an emotional eating client who ran into this very problem. She was aware of the difficulties that she experienced as a child but she was not aware of the many unprocessed emotions that were affecting her adult life. During the session, we cleared negative emotions from her past that were tied to traumatic experiences. Later in the session, I discovered the root of all the trauma and emotional eating; she was a child of a parent with a substance abuse addiction.

We were able to release the idea that she was responsible for her mother’s addictions. My client previously believed that her mother was using to take the edge off of being a single mother to three children. As the oldest of two, my client also held the emotional weight of taking care of her siblings and also at times, the parent. After clearing her traumatic, negative, and unprocessed emotions, we were able to dissolve an emotional eating habit that this client has had since high school!

Current studies about children with substance-abusing parents

When we talk about parents with a drug or alcohol addiction, everyone’s story is different. My clients tell me they developed emotional eating patterns as a way to cope in life. Maybe as the child, you felt like it was your fault and you believed if you were “better” the parent would stop. Or, you were someone who was constantly walking on eggshells wondering what might trigger the next addictive binge. Or maybe, you tried over and over to fix your parent yet failed to make a positive impact in his or her choices.  Although, there are common patterns and emotional trauma that can stem from this experience. “Compared to their peers, children of substance abusing parents show increased rates of anxiety, depression, oppositional behavior, conduct problems, and aggressive behavior as well as lower rates of self-esteem and social competence” (Current Drug Abuse Reviews). So many of my emotional eating clients come to me stating that they’ve experienced this type of emotional baggage at such a young age and carried it into adulthood. Several of them confirmed that they had parents who struggled with substance abuse.

By recognizing that your emotional eating habit can be attributed to your experience with substance-abusing parents, you can finally allow yourself to see the possibility of gaining freedom from your emotional eating cycle. Let’s talk about how we can target the root of the issue, without having to relive the trauma! Contact me at to schedule a free strategy session.