Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA)

Definition

Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA or ACoA) is a 12-step recovery program for adults who grew in in an alcoholic or otherwise dysfunctional family and share any number of unhealthy feelings and behaviors. The same term is also used to refer to this group of people.

Symptoms or Personality Characteristics of Adult Children of Alcoholics

According to author Janet G. Woititz, author of Adult Children of Alcoholics – The Expanded Edition, symptoms of growing up in an alcoholic family include the following:

  1. Adult children of alcoholics guess at what normal behavior is.
  2. Adult children of alcoholics have difficulty following a project through from beginning to end.
  3. Adult children of alcoholics lie when it would be just as easy to tell the truth.
  4. Adult children of alcoholics judge themselves without mercy.
  5. Adult children of alcoholics have difficulty having fun.
  6. Adult children of alcoholics take themselves very seriously.
  7. Adult children of alcoholics have difficulty with intimate relationships.
  8. Adult children of alcoholics overreact to changes over which they have no control.
  9. Adult children of alcoholics constantly seek approval and affirmation.
  10. Adult children of alcoholics usually feel that they are different from other people.
  11. Adult children of alcoholics are super responsible or super irresponsible.
  12. Adult children of alcoholics are extremely loyal, even in the face of evidence that the loyalty is undeserved.
  13. Adult children of alcoholics are impulsive.[2]

Causes of Adult Children of Alcoholics Syndrome

When one or more parents in a family is an alcoholic, children trying to cope with alcoholism in the family may develop unhealthy behaviors and patterns of thinking.[2] Similar patterns can also occur in families with problems other than alcoholism, so even people who grew up without alcoholism in the family may identify with Adult Children of Alcoholics Syndrome.[1]

Effects of Growing Up in an Alcoholic Family: The Adult Children of Alcoholics “Laundry List”

Also known as “The Problem” or “The Characteristics”, the Adult Children of Alcoholics recovery program identifies the following effects of growing up as a child of an alcoholic. These feelings and behaviors may also be shared by individuals who grew up with other types of dysfunction.

  1. We became isolated and afraid of people and authority figures.
  2. We became approval seekers and lost our identity in the process.
  3. We are frightened by angry people and any personal criticism.
  4. We either become alcoholics, marry them, or both, or find another compulsive personality such as a workaholic to fulfill our sick abandonment needs.
  5. We live life from the viewpoint of victims and are attracted by that weakness in our love, friendships, and career relationships.
  6. We have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility and it is easier for us to be concerned with others rather than ourselves; this enables us not to look too closely at our faults or our responsibility to ourselves.
  7. We get guilt feelings when we stand up for ourselves instead of giving in to others.
  8. We became addicted to excitement.
  9. We confuse love and pity and tend to “love” people we can “pity” and “rescue.”
  10. We have stuffed our feelings from our traumatic childhoods and have lost the ability to feel or express our feelings because it hurts so much. This includes our good feelings such as joy and happiness. Our being out of touch with our feelings is one of our basic denials.
  11. We judge ourselves harshly and have a very low sense of self-esteem.
  12. We are dependent personalities who are terrified of abandonment and will do anything to hold onto a relationship in order not to experience painful abandonment feelings. We received this from living with sick people who were never there emotionally for us.
  13. Alcoholism is a family disease and we became para-alcoholics and took on the characteristics of that disease even though we did not pick up the drink.
  14. Para-alcoholics are reactors rather than actors.[2]

Treatment for Adult Children of Alcoholics

The Adult Children of Alcoholics 12-step recovery program provides one avenue for helping individuals who grew up in an alcoholic family. Meetings are available nationwide and require only a small, voluntary monetary contribution.

Adult Children of Alcoholics also benefit from individualized therapy. This may include examining the role they took on in their family, how behaviors learned in childhood effect their present relationships, and how to change these patterns.

References:

  1. Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization. (n.d.) FAQ. Retrieved from http://www.adultchildren.org/FAQ.php
  2. National Council on Alcoholism & Drug Abuse (n.d.).Adult Children of Alcoholics. Retrieved from http://www.ncada-stl.org/factsheets/adult_children_of_alcoholics.pdf

By C. J. Newton, MA, Counseling.info Editor

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