Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACoA) − Traits and Recovery Trauma

Last Updated: April 18, 2024

David Levin Reviewed by David Levin
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Growing up with drinking parent(s) is considered an adverse childhood experience (ACE), leading to enduring physical and mental health challenges persisting into adulthood and potentially old age if not addressed.

Teenagers are particularly vulnerable to the effects of alcohol use disorder. They are at a higher risk of experiencing anxiety and depression, facing challenges with attention deficits, and showing impulsivity and aggression.

Read on to explore the traits and characteristics of adult children of alcoholics, their struggles and their path to trauma recovery.

What Kind of Trauma Do Children of Alcoholics Face?

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a chronic and potentially severe medical condition characterized by an individual’s compulsive and problematic pattern of alcohol consumption. This disease extensively harms not only the alcohol user but also their families.

Children of alcoholics (COAs) experience numerous psychosocial challenges from infancy to adulthood. Research has shown the deep psychological impression of parental alcohol use over COAs. These children show higher rates of depression risk.

Unfortunately, they are vulnerable to early and frequent substance use, including alcohol, tobacco, cannabis and other illicit drugs.

Deficient Education

Children of alcoholics are a population at risk for poor school performance, skipping school days and school dropout due to the unstable environment that disrupts the child’s ability to focus on their studies.

This can limit their future opportunities and perpetuate cycles of poverty.

Poor Nutrition and Physical Abuse

Studies show a correlation between malnutrition and physical abuse in adult children of alcoholics.

Children subjected to violence or harsh punishment, resulting in physical injuries and lasting trauma, often have nutritional deficiencies and poor dietary habits, leading to susceptibility to illnesses, weakened immune function and higher rates of chronic health conditions in adulthood.

Emotional Neglect

Parents struggling with alcohol use disorder may be emotionally unavailable, abandoning the emotional requirements of their children.

This lack of emotional support can lead to feelings of abandonment, loneliness and worthlessness in children. This emotional turmoil can result in emotional dysregulation, low self-esteem and difficulty managing emotions. They may struggle with feelings of guilt and shame about their family situation.

Mental Health Disorders

There is a marked prevalence of mental health issues among adult children of alcoholics who present higher rates of anxiety and depression, substance abuse disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The trauma and stress of living in an alcoholic household can contribute to these conditions, which may persist into adulthood if left untreated.

Strained Relationships

The previous set of traumas impacts the ability of children of alcoholics to develop healthy social skills and social bonds. For example, studies indicate that daughters with fathers suffering from alcohol use disorder tend to create more insecure attachment behaviors in comparison with those with non-alcoholic fathers.

Children of alcoholics may struggle with trust, keeping friendships, communication and conflict resolution skills in their personal and professional relationships.

Lack of Work Opportunities

Children of alcoholics may struggle with employment, such as trouble maintaining a steady job due to emotional distress or instability caused by their home environment. They might also face challenges in setting and achieving career goals due to low self-esteem or lack of support.

Financial Stability and Stress

Alcohol use disorder in a family may cause financial stress due to money being allocated to satisfy the addiction, unemployment, and even legal problems. Credit card debt is also associated with a greater incidence of risky alcohol behaviors, including heavy drinking.

This instability can impact access to basic needs, learning opportunities, or extracurricular activities.

Traits and Characteristics of Adult Children of Alcoholics

The “Laundry List” is a great source to understand the common traits found in children of alcoholics. This list was outlined by Tony A., a member of the Alcoholics Anonymous fellowship and is as follows:

  • They became isolated and afraid of people and authority figures
  • They are approval seekers and lose their identity in the process
  • They are frightened by angry people and personal criticism
  • They become alcohol abusers, marry one or with someone with other compulsive personality
  • They view life as victims and are drawn to weakness in relationships.
  • They prioritize others’ needs over their own due to a heightened sense of responsibility
  • They feel guilty when they stand up for themselves instead of giving in to others
  • They are addicted to excitement
  • They often mistake pity for love, feeling drawn to “rescue” those they pity.
  • They’re in denial, suppressing negative emotions from traumatic childhoods
  • They judge themselves harshly and have a very low self-esteem
  • They fear abandonment and will do anything to hold onto a relationship
  • They became para-alcoholics and embraced the characteristics of alcohol users
  • Para-alcoholics are reactors rather than actors

Help for Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACoA)

Adults and children of alcoholics are not alone and several resources and support are available. ACoA is a mutual support organization and a 12-step program to help those who grew up in homes affected by alcohol use disorder or other forms of family dysfunction.

This organization provides support and guidance to its members through various avenues:

  • Regular meetings where members share their experiences, struggles and successes
  • Extensive literature, including the “ACoA Big Red Book,” with insights, tools and self-growth exercises
  • Members can connect with sponsors who provide guidance, encouragement and accountability
  • Member follow-step work similar to a Twelve Step program by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
  • Opportunities for fellowship, friendship and mutual support
  • Workshops, retreats and conferences to deepen understanding of recovery principles, healing and renewal
  • Online resources, including forums, virtual meetings and social media groups

If you or someone you know is struggling as a child of alcoholics, find further information and help about ACoA on their website.

Adult Children of Alcoholics − Key Takeaways

Given the heterogeneous nature of alcohol user disorder and the often co-occurring mental health disorders, helping and treating the complexities of families affected can be very challenging but not impossible.

While there is evidence of genetic predisposition to alcohol abuse, children of alcoholics can thrive with support and intervention. Teachers, therapists, friends, and relatives are cornerstones that provide assistance and resources. Support in ACoA is available to help people overcome adversity and lead fulfilling and sober lives.

People Also Ask

What is the Adult Children of Alcoholics movement?

The Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACoA) movement offers support and resources for adults who grew up in homes with alcoholic or dysfunctional parents, helping them navigate and heal from the physical and mental impacts of their upbringing.

What attachment styles do adult children of alcoholics have?

Adult children of alcoholics may exhibit insecure attachment styles, such as anxious-preoccupied or dismissive-avoidant, due to emotional neglect experienced in childhood, impacting their relationships and emotional well-being.

Are children of alcoholics more likely to become alcoholics?

Yes, children of alcoholics are at three to four times the risk of developing alcoholism compared to those without alcoholic parents. Daughters of alcoholics are more likely to marry alcoholic men, perpetuating the cycle for future generations.

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Page Sources

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Retrieved on April 18, 2024.

Published on: December 10th, 2019

Updated on: April 18th, 2024

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