Our parents and other significant adult figures play a monumental role in our lives. While that impact is not always directly observable, the affects are observable in our psyches, emotionally and psychologically. Children who grow up in dysfunctional or alcoholic/addict households develop similar traits and characteristics as their alcoholic parent(s), such as: poor self-esteem, anxiety disorders, and other maladaptive behaviors. The child may not develop alcoholism as an adult, but he may develop addictive behaviors and patterns. These attitudes and dysfunctional patterns can carry over to adolescence and adulthood, affecting relationships and security. The following are some characteristics of adult children of alcoholics:
Characteristics: Are You an Adult Child of an Alcoholic?
Several characteristics of adult children of alcoholics were outlined in 1983 by Dr. Janet Woititz ‘s Adult Children of Alcoholics:
- Fear of losing control– Adult children of alcoholics maintain control over their behavior and feelings. They also try to control the behavior and feelings of others. They do this because they are afraid, not because they want to hurt themselves or others. Generally, ACOA’s are adept at switching roles, from being the parent to their parent, to trying to keep a happy, healthy demeanor at school. So, the children, and adult children wear many hats, or masks.
- Avoid conflict– Adult children of alcoholics are generally fearful of authority figures and angry people. Also, most ACOA’s do not take personal criticism very well. Often, they misinterpret assertiveness for anger.
- Denial– When adult children of alcoholics feel threatened, they tend to deny what provokes their fears.
- Victim Mentality– Adult children of alcoholics may be either passive or aggressive victims, and are often attracted to others like them, in friendships, coworkers, and intimate relationships.
- Attracted to Compulsive Personalities– Many lose themselves in their relationship with others, and sometimes find themselves attracted to alcoholics, or to other compulsive personalities— such as workaholics. They are generally attracted to those who are emotionally unavailable. Adult children sometimes like to be the “rescuer” and will form relationships with others who need their help, to the extent of neglecting their own needs. Codependency is a very common trait amongst ACOA’s.
Resources and Help for Adult Children of Alcoholics
ACOA—Adult Children of Alcoholics— is the main support group for this demographic. It is a twelve-step based mutual self-help support group similar in structure to AA, NA, and other twelve-step programs. Like AA, ACOA’s foundation is found in AA’s the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. Additionally, there are other self-help groups, such as Al-Anon and Alateen. These fellowships serve a common purpose: to “help families of alcoholics” by sharing their “experience, strength and hope … .” (One Day at a Time in Al Anon). By practicing the Steps themselves, members welcome and give “comfort to families of alcoholics” (ODAT). The focus begins with self, especially in the change of attitudes and behaviors toward those who suffer from the disease of alcoholism. The recovery process unfolds gently, helping those affected by addictive behavior to process their history, and examine how their behavior is tied to that history.