October 19, 2023

Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOAs)

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Growing up with an alcoholic parent can be emotionally challenging for a child, often without them fully comprehending it. ACoAs (adult children of alcoholics) witness neglect and abuse, although they may not have the words to describe these experiences. Children of alcoholics often internalize their parent’s absence or inconsistency, believing that it’s their fault, and strive to maintain stability amidst the chaos.

As kids of alcoholics grow into adults, the trauma of their upbringing can persist. Adult children of alcoholic parents may grapple with emotions like fear, anxiety, anger, and self-hatred carried over from their childhood. They may also observe their old coping mechanisms resurfacing in adulthood – people-pleasing, controlling behavior, seeking approval, or passing judgment on themselves and others, for instance.

In response to the question, “What does it mean to be an adult child of an alcoholic?” it signifies that an individual needed to navigate an emotional minefield during their childhood growing up with alcoholic parents, acquiring survival strategies that may need to be unlearned as they mature.

Characteristics of Adult Children of Alcoholics

Growing up in households with alcoholic parents can have a profound impact on children, leading to the development of specific characteristics and traits. Here are some common

adult children of alcoholics characteristics:

  • Impulsive behavior: ACoAs often exhibit impulsive decision-making, reacting to situations without considering consequences or alternative options.
  • Isolation and fear: They may become isolated and fearful of people and authority figures, experiencing a loss of identity while seeking approval from others.
  • Difficulty in accepting love: Children of alcoholic parents might struggle to accept love, nurture, and care from others due to the unpredictability and fear experienced in their upbringing, leading to enforced self-reliance and self-sufficiency.
  • Codependent relationships: Sometimes, an adult child of alcoholic parents may develop codependent tendencies, feeling responsible for taking care of others. This can lead to unstable or unhealthy attachments and a fear of emotional pain in close relationships.
  • Attention-seeking behavior: Others might become more attention-seeking to fulfill unmet needs from childhood, forming unstable bonds with others due to the familiarity of such relationships.

Adult Children of Alcoholics Traits

Child of an alcoholic syndrome often involves childhood traits being carried into adulthood, impacting their relationships and overall well-being. Traits of children of alcoholic may include:

  • Emotional challenges: ACoAs may continue to grapple with fear, anxiety, anger, and self-hatred from their childhood experiences.
  • Coping mechanisms: Coping mechanisms learned in childhood ­ people-pleasing, controlling behavior, approval-seeking, or judgmental attitudes, for example – can resurface in adulthood
  • Isolation: Many ACoAs struggle with feelings of isolation. They may not have a clear understanding of what constitutes a normal, balanced response in various situations, leading them to guess at appropriate reactions. This sense of isolation can result from growing up in an environment characterized by chaos and emotional turmoil.
  • Approval seeking: ACoAs often become approval seekers. In their quest for validation and acceptance, they may lose their sense of identity, prioritizing others’ opinions over their own. This trait can stem from a deep desire for love and affirmation that may have been lacking in their childhood.
  • Fear of criticism: Due to their experiences growing up, ACoAs may develop a heightened sensitivity to criticism. They can become easily frightened by angry people and personal criticism, as such experiences might trigger memories of the tumultuous environment they lived in during their formative years.
  • Self-reliance: Many ACoAs learn self-reliance early on because they couldn’t depend on their alcoholic parents for stability and support. This trait can lead to difficulties in accepting love, nurturing, and care from others later in life. They may find it challenging to let others in emotionally.
  • Codependent tendencies: Some ACoAs may develop codependent tendencies. They might believe that it’s their responsibility to take care of others, leading to codependent relationships where their needs are often neglected in favor of the needs of others. This behavior can stem from a desire to maintain control in an unstable environment.
  • Attention-seeking behavior: Conversely, others may become more attention-seeking in an attempt to fulfill unmet needs from their childhood. They may form unstable or unhealthy attachments to others because these bonds feel familiar, even if they are dysfunctional. 

Getting Help and Support as the Child of an Alcoholic

Children of alcoholics often face complex challenges that can have a lasting impact on their lives. Here are some actionable tips to guide you if you have experienced adult children of alcoholic trauma syndrome.

Learn more about alcoholism as a disease and its effects on individuals and families. Understanding the nature of addiction can help you make sense of your experiences.

Consider therapy or counseling. A trained therapist can provide a safe and supportive space for you to explore your feelings and develop coping strategies. Look for support groups for adult children of alcoholics. Connecting with others who have similar experiences can be immensely helpful in reducing feelings of isolation.

Establish clear boundaries with your alcoholic parent to protect your own well-being. This may involve limiting contact or setting specific rules for interaction.

Prioritize self-care activities that promote your mental and emotional health. This can include exercise, meditation, journaling, or spending time with supportive friends and family.

Be mindful not to enable your parent’s alcoholism by covering up or making excuses for their behavior. Encourage them to seek help but recognize that their recovery is ultimately their responsibility.

In some cases, organizing an intervention with the help of a professional can be an effective way to encourage your parent to seek treatment.

Channel your energy into building a positive future for yourself. Pursue your goals, career, and hobbies to create a fulfilling life independent of your parent’s addiction.

If your parent is willing to seek help, research and discuss treatment options together. Understand the different approaches to alcohol addiction treatment, such as detox, inpatient rehab, or outpatient programs.

Reach out to organizations and hotlines that specialize in assisting families and individuals affected by addiction. They can provide guidance, resources, and referrals to appropriate services.

Remember that healing from the effects of growing up with an alcoholic parent is a journey, and seeking help and support is a fundamental step toward building a healthier and happier life for yourself. You don’t have to face these challenges alone, and there are resources available to assist you in your recovery.

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Can ACoAs break the cycle of addiction?

ACoAs (adult children of alcoholics) can break the cycle of addiction through awareness, therapy, and support. Recognizing the impact of their upbringing and seeking help are essential steps in overcoming the risk of addiction.

What is it like growing up with alcoholic parents?

Growing up with alcoholic parents can be traumatic, leading to emotional scars and a skewed perception of healthy relationships. ACoAs often experience instability, fear, and neglect, impacting their emotional well-being.

Are ACoAs more likely to develop alcohol use disorder too?

ACoAs are at an increased risk of developing alcohol use disorder due to the familial influence of alcoholism. However, with self-awareness and preventive measures, they can reduce this risk and seek healthier coping mechanisms.

How can an ACoA get support for dealing with the effects of being a child of alcoholic parents?

ACoAs can seek support through therapy, support groups like Al-Anon, and counseling to address the emotional and psychological effects of their upbringing. Seeking professional help is essential for healing and breaking the cycle of dysfunction.

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Get Treatment for Alcohol Addiction at Gratitude Lodge

Gratitude Lodge, situated in Southern California, offers comprehensive assistance for individuals battling addiction and mental health issues. Our pet-friendly rehab facilities, conveniently located in Newport Beach and Long Beach, CA, prioritize holistic recovery from alcohol addiction.

Our carefully supervised medical detoxification program provides a secure and seamless route to detox and continued healing. Once your body is purged of alcohol, you can move directly into our 30-day inpatient program. Our treatment programs encompass a wide range of interventions, including:

  • MAT (medication-assisted treatment)
  • Psychotherapies
  • Group therapy
  • Individual therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Holistic therapy
  • Aftercare support

To make the transition from active addiction to sustained recovery, trust Gratitude Lodge. Contact our admissions team at 800-994-2184.

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Joe Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been working in the addiction industry for half a decade and has been writing about addiction and substance abuse treatment during that time. He has experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.
Jenni Bussi

Jenni Busse MS, LPCC

Jenni Busse MS, LPSS is the Clinical Director at Gratitude Lodge. Jenni oversees the clinical program and the clinical team at Gratitude Lodge as a whole. Jenni has worked in treatment for almost 14 years. Her background as a licensed therapist and her passion for helping others intersected with addiction recovery when she started working primarily in detox residential treatment.

Drug detox can vary according to the patient’s addiction factors, including the substance abused, how long the addiction has lasted, the patient’s medical condition, if any other disorders are present, and more. Our skilled and credentialed team at Gratitude Lodge work closely with every patient going through drug detox, facilitating the beginnings of a successful recovery at our rehab addiction centers in Orange County, CA.

Drug detox can vary according to the patient’s addiction factors, including the substance abused, how long the addiction has lasted, the patient’s medical condition, if any other disorders are present, and more. Our skilled and credentialed team at Gratitude Lodge work closely with every patient going through drug detox.

Many patients don’t realize the toxicity of prolonged alcohol abuse and how it affects the body. Alcohol detox at the luxurious rehab addiction centers at Gratitude Lodge leeches your body of these toxins in preparation for successful treatment for drugs and alcohol abuse. Alcohol detox may not take as long or produce severe withdrawal symptoms, but it is still an essential beginning to your recovery.

Many patients don’t realize the toxicity of prolonged alcohol abuse and how it affects the body. Alcohol detox at the luxurious rehab addiction centers at Gratitude Lodge leeches your body of these toxins in preparation for successful treatment for drugs and alcohol abuse.
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Holistic Therapy

Our holistic therapy treatments offer a full-scope approach to recovery, addressing your mind, body, and emotions as part of a comprehensive treatment plan. This therapy is designed to help address underlying issues and integrate alternative therapies to promote overall health and well-being.
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An essential part of your treatment experience, we offer individual (CBT and DBT talk therapy) and group addiction treatment counseling to help you explore and address the emotional component of addiction, providing you with the tools, self-awareness, and empowerment you need to maintain recovery.
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Dual Diagnosis

Dual Diagnosis is a highly effective addiction treatment that addresses substance use and mental health disorders simultaneously. Often co-occurring, these disorders are best managed when treated together with specific and targeted therapy.
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Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Medication-Assisted Treatment provides you with FDA-approved medications to help ease the symptoms of withdrawal while you’re in treatment. This makes the detox process easier and safer, as well as increasing the chances of a successful recovery.
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Sober Living

Sober living provides a supportive and substance-free living environment for your ongoing recovery. We partner with a number of upscale and carefully vetted sober living homes that are available to our clients after inpatient alcohol and drug addiction treatment.
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Outpatient Treatment

Once detox and inpatient are complete, we provide an easy transition to outpatient care through our hand-selected partners. This program offers a more flexible approach, allowing you to ease back in to daily life while still receiving frequent & effective care.
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Inpatient treatment provides an intensive and comprehensive addiction treatment program in a structured environment. You will receive 24/7 expert care, therapy, and support as you build your foundation for long-term recovery.
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Drug & Alcohol Detox

A crucial first step in the recovery process, our detox program provides a comfortable, medically supervised environment that addresses the physical aspect of addiction and eliminates substances from your body.

Use Our 24 Hour text line. You can ask questions about our program, the admissions process, and more.