Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA)
When children grow up in a home where one or both parents or caregivers struggles with active alcohol addiction, each day can bring chaos, fear, uncertainty, or sadness. They may be exposed to violence, arguments, abandonment, abuse, or neglect.
Children of alcoholics learn they are never the priority. Instead of being cared for, they must become the caretakers of the addicted adult/s. They do not have a positive example or the guidance they need to learn how to build healthy relationships, properly take care of themselves, or get a solid emotional beginning in life.
Growing up in this kind of dysfunctional home causes damage that often carries over into adulthood. As a result, children whose parents suffer from an alcohol use disorder tend to develop certain characteristics as adults that can compromise their health and well-being.
Many adult children of alcoholics frequently isolate themselves. They may feel they are different from the people around them and believe they cannot function with others because they don’t know how to behave appropriately. Or, they think they should get special allowances and treatment, making maintaining positive relationships difficult. They may still carry with them the shame of their parent’s alcoholism that kept them from having normal friendships as a child.
- Low Self-Esteem and Harsh Self-criticism
Adult children of alcoholics generally did not receive the love and attention they needed as children, which may contribute to ongoing low self-esteem as adults. They believe they do not deserve loving and respectful treatment, regardless of how competent or successful they may be.
- Overreaction to Change
ACOA generally has a negative reaction to unsolicited change. Their response is usually an emotional and extreme overreaction. They cannot see the positive aspects of the change or focus on adjusting to it and moving forward.
- Fear of Losing Control
Adult children of alcoholics try to control their feelings and behavior and the feelings and behavior of others. They behave this way because they are afraid, not because they want to hurt other people or themselves. They are afraid that if they give up control, their lives will get worse. When they are not able to control a situation, they can become stressed and anxious.
- Fear of Feelings or Emotions
Many people with alcoholic parents have had to bury their feelings and emotions since childhood. Therefore, they have difficulty expressing their feelings and emotions, especially sadness and anger. They fear all strong feelings and emotions, even positive ones such as happiness, joy, and fun.
When children don’t get the approval they need and deserve, they can become overly sensitive to the needs of others. This trait can continue into adulthood as they try to boost their self-esteem by pleasing other people and earning their praise. By being compulsive perfectionists, adult children of alcoholics hope to be accepted.
- Dependent Personalities
ACOA can also develop dependent personalities. They are very fearful of being abandoned and will do almost anything to keep a relationship so they do not experience the painful feelings of abandonment. Their codependence can lead to them getting stuck in unloving or even abusive relationships as adults.
- A Victim Mentality
Someone who has a victim mentality believes that everyone is out to hurt them or put them at a disadvantage in some way. While they may have indeed experienced trauma, they tend to blame others for every negative thing that happens to them rather than empowering themselves to take control of their own happiness. Adult children of alcoholics can sometimes adopt a victim mentality and feel that the world is out to get them.
- Avoid Conflict
Adult children of alcoholics may fear people who are angry or in authority. They often think a person is angry when they are being assertive. They constantly look for approval from others, even at the cost of their
- Difficulty in Romantic Relationships
Many adult children of alcoholics have difficulty maintaining healthy romantic or friendly relationships. Growing up, they never had a healthy example of a positive romantic relationship. As a result, they tend to become involved with other people who need help. They want to rescue the person, neglecting their own needs in the process.
Do You Need Help?
At Anabranch, we understand the long-term effects alcoholism can have on all members of a family. We also know that many adults whose parents were addicted to alcohol are more likely to develop a substance use disorder themselves. If you or a loved one struggles with alcohol or drug addiction, we can help. Call and speak to a caring professional at Anabranch Recovery Center, located in Terre Haute, Indiana. We will answer your questions and help you on your journey to recovery.
About the Author:
Terry Hurley is a retired educational professional and freelance writer with more than fifty years of experience. A former reading specialist and learning center director, Terry loved her years working with children in the educational field. She has written extensively for print and online publications specializing in education and health issues. For the last six years, her writing focus has been on addiction and mental health issues.