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Daughters of Alcoholic Mothers Run Greater Mental Health Risks

Real Housewives of New York star Bethenny Frankel recently confessed to People magazine that her mother abused alcohol when Frankel was a child, which puts her at greater risk for mental illness as an adult, according to a new study by Yale University researchers.

Daughters of mothers who abused alcohol run a greater risk for developing mania, nicotine dependence, alcohol abuse and schizoid personality disorder, the study found. It’s to be published in the October edition of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

“Adult children of alcoholics are in general at much greater risk for developing every type of psychiatric illness,” regardless of gender, says Peter T. Morgan, professor of psychiatry at Yale. “The key, new finding of this work is that the effect parental alcoholism has on children is different depending on the gender of the alcoholic parent and the gender of the child,” he said.

It’s no wonder then that Frankel has chosen to come clean about her mother’s alcohol abuse and how deeply it’s affected her.  Despite criticism to the contrary, I think it’s a brave choice.

SD blogger Helaine recently took Frankel to task for recounting her “painful past” to People magazine. Frankel is estranged from her mother and has said her childhood was filled with “alcohol abuse, eating disorders and violent fights.” Helaine suggests that “Frankel’s public drubbing of her otherwise anonymous mom is yet another battle in our own continuing mommy wars, where we demonize other mothers in an attempt to buttress ourselves up.” No doubt there is an element of that in the telling of her story, just as anyone who has suffered tries to “buttress themselves up” as a way of overcompensating for the turmoil they’ve been through. Perhaps no bully is as bad (or one-sided) as they’re described by their target, but Frankel has a right to express her opinion, especially if her accusations are founded.

Frankel’s mother, Bernadette Birk, admitted to Star magazine that “there was discord in the family,” but that “Bethenny was the most important person in (her) world.” Could she be looking at the past through the rose-colored glasses of an alcoholic, remembering Frankel’s childhood in a nostalgic, boozy haze? I’m certainly not in a position to say. But it seems unfair to judge Frankel as a mommy-basher when she was clearly negatively affected by the turmoil in her home as a child.

If Frankel’s allegations are true, based on the results of this study, Frankel is lucky she isn’t battling mental illness (and maybe she is or has – who knows?). She admits to having struggled with eating disorders her whole life, saying, “Since I was 8, I was obsessed with every single diet ever because I came from a very toxic, dysfunctional household.”

Frankel appears to have worked diligently to become the woman she is today, after having started from a place of pain. Even in opening up about her childhood, she doesn’t come across as a victim. She has a scrappy attitude that I think comes from having faced adversity. Then so what if she’s chosen to talk to the tabloids about everything she’s been through? She is the star of two reality shows, after all. If we want her to share her life with us, we can’t condemn her for doing it.

Photo: Bravo

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