Characteristics of adult children of alcoholics

If you grew up in a family and your parents drink heavily, you may be familiar with the feeling of not knowing what will happen day after day. When one or both parents are fighting drug addiction, the family environment is unpredictable.


Controversy, inconsistency, unreliability and confusion are often rampant. Due to these challenges, the emotional needs of the children of alcoholics are not met, often leading to misbehaving, and it is difficult to properly take care of themselves and their feelings in later life.of

If you never get the attention and emotional support you need during the critical developmental period of your youth, but instead concentrate on the dysfunctional behavior of your parents, then it is definitely difficult (or possibly impossible) for you to know how to meet your needs as an adult people.

In addition, if you lack a positive basic relationship, it may be difficult to establish healthy and trusting relationships in the future.of

To survive, children of alcoholics often have to deny their feelings of sadness, fear, and anger. Since unresolved feelings always surface eventually, they usually show up in adulthood.

The benefit of recognizing this is that you are now an adult and no longer a helpless child. You can face these problems and find solutions in ways that were not possible at the time.of

Illustration by JR Bee, VigorTip

Lasting effect

Many children of alcoholics develop similar characteristics and personality traits. In her landmark 1983 book “Adult Children of Alcoholics”, the late Janet G. Woititz, Ed.D outlined 13 of them. “Dr. Jan” (her name) is a best-selling author, lecturer and consultant, and she is married to an alcoholic.

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Based on her personal experience of alcoholism and its effects on children, as well as her collaborations with clients who grew up in dysfunctional families, Janet found that these common characteristics are not only common in alcoholic families, but also among those who grew up in families. It is also ubiquitous. Where are other compulsions.

Examples of behavior include gambling, drug use, or overeating. Other types of dysfunction, such as long-term illnesses or parents with strict religious attitudes, are also implicated.

She mentioned that the adult children of alcoholics (ACoA) often:

  • Guess what the normal behavior is
  • Difficulty tracking the project from start to finish
  • Lie when it’s equally easy to tell the truth
  • Judge yourself mercilessly
  • Hard to have fun
  • Take yourself very seriously
  • Difficulty in intimacy
  • Overreacting to changes beyond their control
  • Constantly seeking recognition and affirmation
  • Feel they are different from others
  • Is it super responsible or super irresponsible
  • Very loyal, even in the face of evidence that is not worthy of loyalty
  • Very impulsive
  • People may tend to lock themselves in a course of action without serious consideration of alternative behaviors or possible consequences.
  • One’s impulse can cause confusion, self-loathing and loss of control of the environment. In addition, the person spends too much energy to clean up the mess.
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If you are the child of an alcoholic, this does not mean that everything on this list applies to you. Even though these experiences have common characteristics, you are likely to recognize at least a few items on Dr. Jan’s list.

Laundry list

Before the publication of Dr. Jan’s book, an adult child of Tony A., an alcoholic, published what he called a “laundry list” in 1978. This is another feature list for those who grew up in dysfunctional families. It seems very familiar.

Tony’s list has been adopted as part of the official documentation of the World Service Organization for Adult Alcoholics and is the basis for the article “Questions” published on the organization’s website.

According to Tony’s list, many adult children of alcoholics can:

  • Become isolated
  • Fear of the people and authority figures
  • Become a person seeking recognition
  • Afraid of angry people
  • Fear of personal criticism
  • Become alcoholics, marry them, or both
  • See life as a victim
  • There is an overwhelming sense of responsibility
  • Caring about others more than oneself
  • Feel guilty when they stand up for themselves
  • Addicted to excitement
  • Confuse love and compassion
  • “Love” the person who needs to be saved
  • Stuffed with their feelings
  • Lose the ability to feel
  • Have low self-esteem
  • Judge yourself harshly
  • Fear of being abandoned
  • Do anything to maintain a relationship
  • Become a “assisted alcoholic” (a person who has disease characteristics without drinking alcohol)
  • Become a reactor instead of an actor

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ACoA and relationship

Many adult children of alcoholics lose themselves in relationships with others, and sometimes find themselves attracted by alcoholics or other compulsive personalities (such as workaholics) that are emotionally inaccessible.

Adult children may also establish relationships with other people who need their help or need to be rescued, so that they ignore their own needs. If they focus on the overwhelming needs of others, they do not have to consider their own difficulties and shortcomings.

Usually, the adult children of alcoholics present the characteristics of alcoholics, even if they have never drunk alcohol: show denial, poor coping skills, poor problem-solving skills, and dysfunctional relationships.

Support for adult children of alcoholics

If you agree with the characteristics outlined in the book by Dr. Woititz or Tony A., you may want to take our adult and child screening test to understand how much you may be affected as you grow up.

Many adult children find that seeking professional treatment or counseling to gain insight into their feelings, behaviors, and struggles helps them better understand how childhood has shaped who they are today.

This process is usually overwhelming at the beginning, but it can help you learn how to express your needs and deal with conflicts in new and constructive ways.

Others get help through mutual support groups, such as the Al-Anon family group or adult children of alcoholics. You can find support group meetings in your area or online meetings of Al-Anon and ACOA.