This is by no means a judgement on parents who are alcoholics or addicted in other ways, as they have difficulties which have caused them to become addicts in the first place. But it does also need to be acknowledged that children who grow up in alcoholic homes often experience additional difficulties that can make their adult lives more challenging than for children who grow up in emotionally stable homes.
Janet Woititz, John Bradshaw, Claudia Black and many others have written and taught about issues related to adult children of alcoholics (ACOA) for decades. Nonetheless, as long as there are parents who have addictions, there will continue to be new generations of ACOAs.
Common characteristics of adult children of alcoholics:
- Are unsure of normal behaviour, therefore, they have to guess at it.
- Experience difficulty with follow through.
- Often lie when the truth would be easier.
- Are their own worst critics, judging themselves harshly, and have a very low sense of self-esteem.
- Have difficulty relaxing and having a good time.
- Often take themselves very seriously.
- Struggle with intimacy.
- May be rigid and feel a need to control things, including things that are out of their control.
- Have a high need for approval, acknowledgement and acceptance.
- Experience themselves as different from other people.
- Tend to have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility and be concerned with others rather than themselves, or be irresponsible, with a tendency to be impulsive and fail to consider the consequences of their actions.
- Are loyal to a fault, even when it is not in their best interest or deserved.
- Spend a lot of time cleaning up their mistakes and beating themselves up for bad behaviour.
- Frequently feel self-loathing.
- Often feel out of control.
- May also have addictions.
- Have problems with relationships.
- Often have 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 they received from living with sick people who were never there emotionally for them, or overly independent whereby they feel they have to do everything themselves as they cannot rely on support from anyone.
- Have difficulty with boundaries.
- Become isolated and afraid of people and authority figures.
- Become approval seekers and lose their identity in the process.
- Are frightened by angry people and any personal criticism.
- Often become alcoholics, marry them or both, or find another compulsive personality such as a workaholic to fulfil their sick abandonment needs.
- Live life from the viewpoint of victims and are attracted by that weakness in love and friendship relationships.
- Get guilt feelings when they stand up for themselves instead of giving in to others.
- Become addicted to excitement.
- Confuse love and pity and tend to “love” people they can “pity” and “rescue.”
- Have “stuffed” their feelings from their traumatic childhoods and have lost the ability to feel or express their feelings because it hurts so much (Denial).
- Alcoholism is a family disease, and they become para-alcoholics and take on the characteristics of that disease even though they did not pick up the drink.
- Para-alcoholics are reactors rather than actors.
(Adapted from 13 Characteristics of Adult Children of Alcoholics, Janet Woititz, PhD, and the Laundry List of traits from http://www.adultchildren.org).
If you feel you need help as an adult child of an alcoholic, there are various organisations around the world that offer programs of support.
We also have a pack of worksheets to help you identify some of the problems you may be experiencing as an adult child of an alcoholic, and suggested ways to help you resolve some of these issues.
This is available for FREE from our store.