Updated on February 20, 2024
3 min read

What Happens When You Grow Up With an Alcoholic Parent?

Key Takeaways

  • Having an alcoholic parent can significantly impact a child's life
  • Children of alcoholics can develop certain traits and mental health problems that can be hard to overcome
  • Children of alcoholics may also develop an addiction
  • Meetings and support groups for children of alcoholics are available
  • Other support groups can cater to the family or friends of an alcoholic person

Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA) Laundry List

The Laundry List is a compilation of traits common among those who grew up in dysfunctional homes, particularly with alcoholic parents.

In 1978, it identified these characteristics:

  1. Isolation and fear of authority figures
  2. Seeking approval to the point of losing one's identity
  3. Aversion to anger and criticism, fearing personal attacks
  4. Tendency to enter relationships with alcoholics or become workaholics due to abandonment issues
  5. A victim mentality that influences relationship choices
  6. Excessive responsibility-taking, leading to self-neglect
  7. Guilt when asserting oneself, often yielding to others' demands
  8. Seeking thrill in relationships due to an addiction to excitement
  9. Confusing love with pity, leading to relationships with dysfunctional partners for 'rescue'
  10. Repressed childhood trauma causing difficulty in expressing and feeling emotions
  11. Low self-esteem, feeling undeserving of better circumstances
  12. Dependence on others with an intense fear of being abandoned, often clinging to relationships
  13. Para-alcoholism, mimicking alcoholic behaviors without consuming alcohol

Growing up in such an environment can make these people emulate their parents' behaviors. They might isolate or involve themselves in relationships where they can exert control or manipulation.


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

In 1983, Janet Woititz identified common traits in adult children of alcoholics in her list “From Adult Children of Alcoholics (& Other Dysfunctional Families).”

These traits include:

  1. Difficulty understanding normal behavior
  2. A tendency to give up easily
  3. A habit of lying compulsively
  4. Overly harsh self-judgment
  5. Challenges in having fun
  6. Taking life too seriously
  7. Issues with intimacy
  8. Overreacting to things outside their control
  9. A constant need for approval
  10. Feelings of alienation
  11. Extremes in responsibility, either being overly responsible or completely irresponsible.
  12. Excessive loyalty, even to a fault
  13. Impulsiveness and stubbornness, often engaging in actions prematurely and persisting too long, leading to loss of control, self-loathing, and confusion

Observations on Dysfunctional Family Behaviors Beyond Alcoholism

Woititz also noted that these traits aren't exclusive to alcoholic families. They're also prevalent in various dysfunctional family settings, including families with issues like:

  • Gambling 
  • Drug abuse 
  • Overeating 
  • Parents who were chronically unwell 
  • Strict religious beliefs

Children from these backgrounds often deny the impact of family dysfunction and may internalize destructive attitudes and behaviors.

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What Happens When You Grow Up With an Alcoholic Parent?
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Other Support Groups

Here are other resources for those with family or friends struggling with drinking problems:

Benefits of ACA Meetings and Support Groups

The advantages of ACA meetings and support groups include:

  • They're safe spaces for adult children of alcoholics
  • Attendees share stories and personal experiences without judgment
  • Meetings are available in various formats, such as in-person, online, or over the phone.
  • Meetings are open to everyone, regardless of race, sexual orientation, experience level, and age
  • All panels focus on spiritual guidance
  • Meetings and groups have don't affiliate with any religion


Children of alcoholics often face enduring impacts, including mental health issues and a tendency to develop addictions. The ACA Laundry List and Dr. Jan's traits identify common patterns in these people.

These characteristics are also prevalent in other dysfunctional family environments, like those with drug abuse or chronic illnesses. Acknowledging these issues is crucial for healing, yet children from such backgrounds frequently internalize negative behaviors and attitudes.

Support groups like ACA and Al-Anon provide essential platforms for sharing experiences and learning healthier life practices. These meetings, available to everyone and focusing on spiritual guidance, offer a path toward recovery and personal growth.

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Updated on February 20, 2024

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