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Updated on September 27, 2022

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 disappear when they enter adulthood. 

ACA Laundry List

In 1978, Tony A. published what he called "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 find that this list resonates with them. 

The observations here include: 

  1. Isolation from and fear of authority figures. 
  2. Hunger for approval leading to loss of identity. 
  3. Fear of angry people and personal criticism. 
  4. Abandonment issues lead to becoming or marrying an alcoholic. It can also lead to becoming a "workaholic." 
  5. Victim-mentality which influences who one forms relationships with
  6. An overdeveloped sense of responsibility, leading to neglect of one’s own needs 
  7. Feelings of guilt when standing up to people instead of giving in
  8. Addiction to excitement  leading to tumultuous relationships
  9. Confusion of love and pity leads to starting relationships with dysfunctional people in hopes of “rescuing” them.
  10. Repression of childhood trauma leads to an inability to feel or express feelings
  11. Low self-esteem — feeling that one doesn’t deserve anything better
  12. Intense feelings of dependence on others and fear of abandonment. This leads to clinging to relationships at any cost.
  13. Para-alcoholism — Emulating alcoholic behaviors even if you don't drink
  14. 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, there are some common traits 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:

  1. Don't understand normal behavior 
  2. Give up easily 
  3. Lie compulsively 
  4. Judge themselves harshly
  5. Find it difficult to have fun
  6. Take themselves too seriously
  7. Have intimacy issues
  8. Overreact to things outside their control
  9. Hunger for approval
  10. Feel alienated from others
  11. Are either extremely responsible or completely irresponsible 
  12. Are loyal to a fault 
  13. 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:

  • Gambling 
  • Drug abuse 
  • Overeating 
  • 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.

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

The ACoAs is a group that offers support for anyone who grew up with alcoholics. It provides a forum for people in similar situations to support their journeys.

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 with each other. No judgments are made at these meetings.

Meetings are available in a variety of formats, including in-person, online, or over the phone.

They can also be open to everyone, or for different groups of people, such as:

  • Men
  • Women
  • LGBTQ+
  • Teens
  • Beginners

Meetings can be for everyone or separated by gender, age, experience level, sexual orientation. All panels are grounded in spiritual guidance and are not affiliated with any specific religion.

ACA Newcomers 

The Twelve Steps is a program pioneered by Alcoholics Anonymous 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.

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