Adult Children of Alcoholics: The Lasting Effects
In This Article
It’s no secret that alcoholism affects the people in an alcoholic’s life, such as their children. The impact an alcoholic home has on a child doesn’t disappear when they enter adulthood.
Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA) Laundry List
In 1978, Tony A. published "The Laundry List." This is a list of traits familiar to anyone who grew up in a dysfunctional home.
Someone who grew up in an alcoholic environment may resonate with the list.
The observations include:
- Isolation from and fear of authority figures.
- Hunger for approval leading to loss of identity.
- Fear of angry people and personal criticism.
- Abandonment issues lead to becoming or marrying an alcoholic. It can also lead to becoming a “workaholic.”
- Victim mentality, which influences whom one forms relationships with
- An overdeveloped sense of responsibility, leading to neglect of one’s own needs
- Feelings of guilt when standing up to people instead of giving in
- Addiction to excitement, leading to tumultuous relationships
- Confusion of love and pity, which leads to starting relationships with dysfunctional people in hopes of “rescuing” them
- Repression of childhood trauma leads to an inability to feel or express feelings
- Low self-esteem — Feeling that one doesn’t deserve anything better
- Intense feelings of dependence on others and fear of abandonment. This leads to clinging to relationships at any cost.
- Para-alcoholism — Emulating alcoholic behaviors even if you don’t drink
- Growing up in an alcoholic home can also cause children of alcoholic parents to follow in their footsteps. They may isolate themselves from others to protect against abandonment. They may become drawn to those they can manipulate and control.
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Dr. Jan’s 13 Traits of Adult Children of Alcoholics
Unfortunately, some traits are common among adult children of alcoholics. In 1983, Janet Woititz created the list, “From Adult Children of Alcoholics (& Other Dysfunctional Families).”
According to Janet, children of alcoholics have the following characteristics:
- Don’t understand normal behavior
- Give up easily
- Lie compulsively
- Judge themselves harshly
- Find it difficult to have fun
- Take themselves too seriously
- Have intimacy issues
- Overreact to things outside their control
- Hunger for approval
- Feel alienated from others
- Are either extremely responsible or completely irresponsible
- Are loyal to a fault
- Highly impulsive and stubborn, leading them to launch into situations prematurely. They then stay on their path far too long, eventually losing control. This leads to self-loathing, confusion, and wasted energy.
Based on experience, Janet learned these tendencies are common in other kinds of dysfunctional families.
Examples of other kinds of dysfunctional behaviors seen in families include:
- Drug abuse
- Parents who were chronically unwell
- Strict religious beliefs
Children of alcoholic parents may refuse to admit they’ve been affected by family dysfunction. They may even internalize those destructive attitudes and behaviors.
Benefits of ACA Meetings and Support Groups
ACA meetings and support groups are safe spaces available for adult children of alcoholics. The attendees of these meetings share stories and personal experiences without judgment.
Meetings are available in various formats, such as in-person, online, or over the phone.
They can also be open to everyone or for different groups of people, such as:
Meetings can be for everyone or separated by gender, age, experience level, and sexual orientation. All panels are grounded in spiritual guidance and are not affiliated with any religion.
The Twelve Steps is a program pioneered by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) to help members attain sobriety. The Twelve Traditions are guidelines to help members understand their thought and behavioral patterns.
ACA newcomers are encouraged to regularly attend meetings to learn how to live healthier lives.
Other Support Groups
Other support groups are available as well. Aside from local support groups, Al-Anon Family Groups can also be very beneficial. Al-Anon touts itself as “a mutual support group of peers” for those with family or friends with drinking problems.
Most adult children of alcoholics have similar traits. These result from their experiences growing up, and these traits may be difficult to overcome. Fortunately, meetings and support groups are available for adult children of alcoholics. Other support groups cater to the family or friends of people with drinking problems.
Call to find out how much your insurance will cover
- “Find an Al-Anon or Alateen Face-to-Face, Phone, or Online Meeting.” Al, 2020.
- “Information for Meetings and Groups.” Adult Children of Alcoholics & Dysfunctional Families.
- “Laundry List.” Adult Children of Alcoholics & Dysfunctional Families.
- “Welcome to ACA.” Adult Children of Alcoholics & Dysfunctional Families.
- “World Service Organization.” Adult Children of Alcoholics & Dysfunctional Families.
- Kearns-Bodkin, Jill N, and Kenneth E Leonard. “Relationship functioning among adult children of alcoholics.” Journal of studies on alcohol and drugs, 2008.