The Adult Child of an Alcoholic

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Have you ever heard of the term Adult Children of Alcoholics? It sounds a bit odd at first, doesn’t it? But if you grew up in a home with an alcoholic or dysfunctional parent, like I did, it might catch your attention. The truth is, there are many of us who fit within this category today. Research has lead me to discover that as many as 1 in 8 adults grew up in a home where at least one parent abused alcohol and/or substances, or where there was some other dysfunction present. In other words, we are surrounded by others who share this commonality; however, we may never even know it because ACoA’s are usually pretty silent about our struggles. In many cases, we don’t even fully recognize the impact that growing up in such an environment has had on our daily lives.

For me, I first stumbled across some ACoA information a number of years ago in the form of the book, Perfect Daughters, by Robert Ackerman. I found myself facing descriptions of traits that I highly identified with, and I could hardly believe what I was reading. It was as if he was speaking directly to me. That was definitely an ‘a-ha’ moment, and all of these years later as I dig in more and more to how identifying as an ACoA has shaped my life, there continue to be many ‘a-ha’ moments.

This is basically my introduction to you to one of my passions. Given how many of us there are in the world, I feel compelled to talk about how some of the common traits of an ACoA might show up. It’s present in our relationships, with our families and friends, it can impact our careers, and create barriers that we didn’t even know existed. The work to break down these barriers doesn’t always come easily, yet it can be so enlightening and powerful. I intend to write about this from time to time in this space, so feel free to check out the category ACoA if the subject is of interest to you. Obviously, it’s pretty empty at the moment…but not for long.

For now, I’ll leave you with this. An organization dedicated to ACoAs was formed back in the 70s.  It’s in a similar vein of Alcoholic’s Anonymous, where they focus on a 12-step recovery program for those who are impacted, and you can read a bit more about their history here. From this organization, a Laundry List was developed. This original list reflects the 14 characteristics or common behaviors of the adult child of an alcoholic. There are many variations of this list, but I thought that sharing some of the original groundwork might be a good place to start. Keep in mind, you may not identify with everything on this list, but odds are, if you grew up in a dysfunctional environment, or if you know and love someone who did, some of this may speak pretty clearly to you.

  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.

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