17 Characteristics That May Indicate That You Are Now an Adult Child of an Alcoholic.
The term “Adult Children of Alcoholics” (also known as ACoA or ACA) refers to individuals, usually over 18 years old, who grew up with at least one parent whose severe, repetitive alcohol use disorder disrupted their lives and emotionally influenced them in a way that still affects them in adulthood.
These individuals have been affected not only by the alcohol use disorders of their parent/s but also by what they missed out on, such as healthy parental role models, security, stability, bonding and other family influences. With effective therapy, the adult children of alcoholics can learn to identify and overcome negative patterns and suppressed emotions, leading them to live more stable, healthy adult lives.
Characteristics of adult children of alcoholics
Children of people with substance problems develop similar traits, not all of which exist in everyone. In some cases, these children develop contrasting behavioural patterns, such as becoming strictly against alcohol or conducting themselves in ways that are quite different to those exhibited by their parents.
Differences in personality, environment, and socioeconomic circumstances all affect the way we react to the world around us, but there are a number of attributes that are commonly seen among children of people with alcohol problems.
The so-called “laundry list” of characteristics seen most often in ACoA will vary from family to family:
- Control: These adult children of alcoholics tend to want to control others or the situations they are in. This control is often due to underlying anxiety around from the disordered states they grew up in themselves. They believe they can prevent harm if they control the actions of others and may become stressed if they lose their command.
- Avoidance: They avoid assertive and angry people, dislike being criticised and fear disapproval. Isolation is an entrenched response to unpleasant situations encountered during their youth.
- Restraint: They find it hard to express emotions because their intense feelings were not dealt with at home and were hidden from outsiders. They even avoid sharing true feelings or having fun.
- Denial: When confronted about an emotional problem, they deny the problem and the reason for it. They are used to denying their own feelings to preserve peace and to protect the family.
- Self-esteem: They have low self-esteem and criticise themselves, even when performing above average. When they were younger they accepted being part of an underperforming household and consequently feel tarnished.
- Perfectionism: To please others and overcome prejudice, they have to try harder than their peers. To gain approval and self-esteem, their output must be perfect.
- Compulsivity: They are workaholics. They obstinately persevere with insignificant tasks. They may compulsively use alcohol or drugs and are drawn to other people that may have similar compulsive behaviours.
- Impulsivity: To relieve tension, they indulge in spontaneous actions without giving them proper thought and like others who have the same affectation.
- Friendships: As a form of self-protection, they limit friendships because they fear rejection and distrust people. They are used to isolation and loneliness.
- Relationships: People, who are like them, attract them. They also support underdogs and those in need of rescue. They confuse love with pity. They give and demand extreme loyalty.
- Marriage: They tend to marry compulsive people. They protect faltering marriages, because they match their childhood experience and because they fear abandonment.
- Intimacy: They impose a limit on intimacy to avoid loss of control over emotions and to prevent exposing intimate information. They were not allowed these intimacies in their childhood.
- Excitement: They are used to the “excitement” of alcoholic chaos and find a similarly unpredictable, dramatic lifestyle acceptable.
- Tolerance: They are used to drama and hysterics and tolerate these conditions as a normal part of life. They regard the anxious responses of people who are not accustomed to such drama as silly and overreactive.
- Distrust: They are used to false promises and disappointment. They expect and prepare for betrayal. They need frequent reassurance or proof of trust.
- Integrity: As children, they had to lie to protect themselves and others. Deceit was risky, but part of life. As adults, they either obsess about the truth or continue with their own dishonesty.
- Parenthood: They have distorted role models. They lack proper parenthood skills and require counselling to overcome their shortcomings when they have children.
Treatment for adult children of people with an alcohol use disorder
Although treating this problem has been somewhat neglected in the past, the emotional scars of Adult Children of Alcoholics can be effectively healed today. Identifying symptoms, their context and effects to individuals is a process that requires specialised professional guidance. It is never too late to begin a therapeutic process. Treatment consists of, inter alia:
- Establishing a trusting relationship with a counsellor
- Assessing the problem
- Counselling of relatives and loved ones
- Counselling employers (if required)
- Comprehensive psychological interviews
- Designing an effective, meaningful solution
- Comprehensive psychotherapy aimed at healing emotional scars
- Skills training to deal with challenging life situations
A safe, comfortable and focussed environment are essential for successful treatment.
Alcohol remains to be one of the most frequently misused substances in the world today. Read more about alcohol addiction treatment in South Africa or read our complete guide to alcohol use disorders or “alcoholism” to find out more on the topic.