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Adult Children of Alcoholics: The Lasting Effects 

It’s no secret that alcoholism affects the people in an alcoholic’s life, such as their children. The impact that an alcoholic home has on someone doesn’t just go away when they grow into their new adult life. Rather, coming from an alcoholic family can take a toll on children that lasts well into their adulthood.

Tony’s Laundry List

In 1978, Tony A. published what he called "The Laundry List," which is a list of characteristics that seem very familiar to anyone who grew up in a dysfunctional home. An adult child of an alcoholic parent, caregiver, or other family members may find that this list really resonates with them:

  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 we are attracted by that weakness in our love and friendship 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 own faults, etc.”
  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 (Denial).”
  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 on to a relationship in order not to experience painful abandonment feelings, which we received 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.”

Personal experience growing up in an alcoholic home can also cause adult children of alcoholic parents to follow in their caregiver’s footsteps, all while denying the truth. As they do this, they may abandon those around them to protect themselves from abandonment—and isolate and dissociate to avoid being hurt. Instead, they may become “attracted to people [they] can manipulate and control in [their] important relationships,” according to Tony A.

“We refuse to admit we’ve been affected by family dysfunction or that there was dysfunction in the home or that we have internalized any of the family’s destructive attitudes and behaviors,” Tony A.’s “‘Other’ List” writes. “We act as if we are nothing like the dependent people who raised us.”

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Dr. Jan’s 13 Traits of Adult Children of Alcoholics

Unfortunately, there are some common traits among adult children of alcoholics. In 1983, Janet Woititz created this list, “From Adult Children of Alcoholics (& Other Dysfunctional Families)” in her book, Adult Children of Alcoholics:

  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. They tend to lock themselves into a course of action without giving serious consideration to alternative behaviors or possible consequences. This impulsively leads to confusion, self-loathing and loss of control over their environment. In addition, they spend an excessive amount of energy cleaning up the mess.”

Many children of alcoholics build similar characteristics and personality traits. Based on Janet's personal experience with alcoholism and its effects on her children, she learned that these characteristics are common in alcoholic families and those who grew up in families where other compulsive behaviors were prevalent. Janet also discovered this from her work with clients who grew up in dysfunctional families.

Examples of behaviors include gambling, drug abuse, and overeating. Other types of dysfunction in families, such as having parents who were chronically unwell or held strict religious beliefs, were also implicated.

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What is the Adult Children of Alcoholics® World Service Organization (ACoAs)?

The Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization (ACoAs) is an organization that offers advice and resources for anyone who grew up with alcoholics. It was founded in 1973 to provide a forum for people in similar situations and support their journeys.

Benefits of ACA Meetings and Support Groups 

ACA meetings and support groups are safe spaces available for adult children of alcoholics so that they know they’re not alone. The attendees of these meetings share stories of hope and inspiration, as well as personal experience with each other without judgement or criticism. These meetings can also help you find the resources you need to cope with your situation. 

There are various types of meetings, including in-person face-to-face meetings, online meetings, telephone meetings, and audio/online meetings. There are also different meetings for women or men only, for teens, for the LGBTQ+ community, for young adults, for beginners, and for everyone together. All meetings are grounded in spiritual guidance and are not affiliated with any specific religion.

You can register online via the Meeting Registration Form. 

ACA Newcomers 

ACA newcomers are always welcome. ACA offers newcomers a “Twelve Step, Twelve Tradition” support group that’s focused on understanding their behavioral patterns and attitudes. ACA newcomers are encouraged to regularly attend meetings to gain a better grasp on their mental health and learn how to take the steps they need to lead better and healthier lives.

Other Support Groups

Other support groups are available for you, as well. Aside from local support groups you may find on social media, Al-Anon Family Groups can also be very beneficial. Al-Anon touts itself as “a mutual support group of peers who share their experience in applying the Al-Anon principles to problems related to the effects of a problem drinker in their lives.”

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Resources

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“Find an Al-Anon or Alateen Face-to-Face, Phone, or Online Meeting.” Al, 9 June 2020, al-anon.org/al-anon-meetings/.

“Information for Meetings and Groups.” Adult Children of Alcoholics & Dysfunctional Families, adultchildren.org/meeting-group/.

“Laundry List.” Adult Children of Alcoholics & Dysfunctional Families, adultchildren.org/literature/laundry-list/.

“Welcome to ACA.” Adult Children of Alcoholics & Dysfunctional Families, adultchildren.org/newcomer/.

“World Service Organization.” Adult Children of Alcoholics & Dysfunctional Families, adultchildren.org/.

Kearns-Bodkin, Jill N, and Kenneth E Leonard. “Relationship functioning among adult children of alcoholics.” Journal of studies on alcohol and drugs vol. 69,6 (2008): 941-50. doi:10.15288/jsad.2008.69.941, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2583382/

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