Affects on Adult Children of Acloholics

What are the affects on adult children of alcoholics?  We tend to be acutely aware of the dangers and affects on little children of alcoholics, but what about the lasting impact once the children are old enough to escape the alcoholic environment?  Are most able to simply brush off their childhood experiences and just move on in life?

ACOAWe are all influenced by the environments in which we were raised.  Just look at the conflicts in marriage that occur over “the way I was raised” in regards to things like the way holidays are celebrated, when dishes are washed, how clothes are folded, and how to raise kids.

In addition to the normal environmental issues children are shaped by, the trauma of growing up in a home with an alcoholic parent or parents forces the child or children to adapt in order to survive.  As a result, there are some characteristics that are commonly expressed by adult children of alcoholics.

WellSpring, a counseling agency in the Columbus area, has listed some of these common characteristics on one of their pamphlets to help these adults realize that they are not alone with their struggles and that there is hope and help, if they choose to accept it.  Some of the common characteristics of adult children of alcoholics are:

  • They guess at what normal behavior is.
  • They have difficulty following through on projects.
  • They fear rejection and abandonment but reject others.
  • They are very loyal, even if loyalty is undeserved.
  • They are overly responsible or overly irresponsible.
  • They have difficulty in close relationships, fear being vulnerable, and isolate.
  • They lie when it would be easy to tell the truth.
  • They may become an alcoholic themselves, marry one, or both.
  • They may be attracted to another compulsive personality (e.g. workaholic) that is not emotionally available to deal with their unhealthy dependency needs (like an alcoholic).
  • They seek approval and affirmation from others and therefore, have difficulty knowing their own identity.
  • They are frightened by angry people and personal criticism.
  • They fear authority figures.
  • They seek immediate gratification.
  • They are impulsive and tend to lock themselves into a course of action without giving serious consideration to alternate behaviors or possible consequences.
  • They feel they are different from other people.
  • They overreact when they feel out of control.
  • They avoid conflict or aggravate it but rarely deal with it.
  • They fear criticism and judgment but criticize and judge others.
  • They fear failure but sabotage their successes.
  • They have feelings of guilt associated with standing up for their rights; it is easier to give into the demands of others, becoming a chameleon.
  • They seek excitement and feel a need to be on the edge and engage in risk-taking behaviors.
  • They confuse feelings of love and pity and are attracted to people that they can rescue and take care of.
  • They avoid feelings related to traumatic childhood experiences.  Unable to feel or express feelings because it is frightening and/or painful and overwhelming; often in a denial of feelings.
  • They judge themselves harshly, have perfectionist tendencies, and are self-critical.
  • They may have a hard time having fun.

hope handsIf you are an adult child of an alcoholic or are close with one, you may recognize several of these common characteristics.  If you or the person with whom you are close to are open to it, take an hour a week for a couple of months to meet with a licensed counselor to process and learn to overcome these struggles and enjoy a fuller life.


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