The Experience and Treatment Options for Adult Children of Alcoholics

Did you know that one-eight of American adult drinkers is an alcoholic? With the number of drinkers in the US, what happens to the children growing up with parents who are alcoholics?

There are about 26.8 million children of alcoholics in the United States. Out of the 26.8 million, about 11 million are 18 years old and below. Chances are you’re friends with some of them, or you are one of them. 

Find help today, and understand the experience and possible treatments available! Continue reading to learn more about adult children of alcoholics.

The Term “Adult Children of Alcoholics”

We use the term “Adult Children” to describe adults raised in alcoholic homes. It refers to adults who show characteristics traits that they have experienced abuse or neglect in the past.

Characteristics of Adult Children of Alcoholics

Here are a few signs that a person is an Adult Children of Alcoholics or ACoA:

Prefers Isolation

Adult Children of Alcoholics often guess how to respond in any given situation. This is because they don’t know what a normal or balanced response is. 

This makes them feel different and estranged from other people. Such belief leads them to believe that they can’t work well with people. Some believe that people should give them special treatment for their past. This perspective makes it difficult for ACoAs to maintain relationships with others.

Moreover, when ACoAs observe other people, they will realize that they grew up in a different environment. This mentality may cause them to think that they are different and thus not good enough. For these reasons, ACoAs may find it difficult to make friends, avoid social interaction, and isolate themselves as a result.

Difficulty Establishing Sense of Normalcy

Growing up with alcoholics hinders adult children from experiencing traditional family relations. Further, alcohol use is normal in families with alcoholics, so they’ll develop that concept too.

As they interact with others, they’ll soon understand that this is not normal. This will lead them to question whether they are abnormal. They become confused about what “normal” circumstances should be.

Difficulty in Romantic Relationships

ACoA grew up with drunk parents unable to fulfill duties and promises made to them. The experience of constant broken promises results in adult children developing trust issues.

As a result, adult children of alcoholics struggle with romantic relationships. They keep being suspicious of their partners, which causes a toxic relationship. For some, they forego relationships and opt to avoid getting close to others at all.

Victim Mentality

ACoAs often blame other people instead of admitting their mistakes. This is because they find it hard to identify the role of their decisions in their life.

They use the logic that they did it as a reaction to what others did. Since ACoAs have difficulty in reflecting, a repeat of the mistake is likely to happen.

Seeking Approval from Others

It is common for alcoholic parents to become irritable and abusive. They tend to vent out their anger and frustration over the simplest thing on their child. To avoid this, children of alcoholics do everything to please their parents.

It becomes a habit for ACoAS to seek opinions and approval from other people. Thus, they tend to please everyone around them.

ACoAs grew up lacking affection and feeling neglected by their parents too. As a result, they start seeking approval that their parents didn’t give from others. They focus on other’s opinions of them, that when they hear negative comments, they take it hard.

Substance Use Disorders

ACoAs develop the mentality that alcohol is normal basing on their environment as a child. This is why they tend to start drinking themselves. For some, it is genetics, and some can’t cope up with stress well, so they turn to addictive drug substances.

Other common traits of adult children of alcoholics include the following:

  • Problems with psychosocial changes 
  • Become self-sufficient
  • Fear of Abandonment
  • Fear of anger or violence
  • Lie when it is easy, to tell the truth
  • Over judge themselves
  • Difficulty having fun
  • Overreact to changes
  • Either super responsible or super irresponsible
  • Very loyal
  • Lock themselves into action
  • Does not give serious consideration to alternatives.
  • Self-loathing
  • Feeling lonely most of the time
  • Depression
  • Has anxiety
  • Has low self-esteem
  • Experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

These characteristics are general and do not apply to everyone. In some cases, only a few apply to one person.

Coping Skills of ACoAs

ACoAs lack good models growing up, so they lack healthy coping habits. Often, they withdraw from stressful activities, daydream, or sleep. 

They also distract themselves, deny reality, and use substances to escape. These unhealthy coping habits of ACoAs may lead to depression when untreated.

Seeking for Help

To help adult children of alcoholics, it is important to consider developing a support system. It helps to know that you are not the only adult children of alcoholics living. This gives you relief and eases the feeling of being “abnormal.”

Learning about the nature of alcohol addiction may also help. Adult children of alcoholics need to understand that they have nothing to do with their parent’s addiction. This makes them realize that they aren’t at fault. 

This will enable adult children of alcoholics to give credit for themselves. It enables them to acknowledge the fact that they were strong enough to grow amidst the circumstances.

Psychotherapy may also help them understand the impact of their parent’s alcoholism. They’ll understand its effects on them and the choices they make. Taking therapy is also recommended to help improve one’s mental state.

For instance, forgiveness therapy focuses on addressing the resentment that is causing problems. It encourages the person to adopt a positive perspective. It aims to allow ACoAs to experience “psychological release.”

Another treatment is to undergo conflict resolution. This aims to instill a constructive way of resolving different problems. The intervention teaches ACoAs to convey their feelings and needs. This is important as ACoAs cannot often express themselves.

Overcoming Being an Adult Children of Alcoholics

Now that you’ve read facts about adult children of alcoholics, what should you do next? As you’ve read, you can outgrow the negative effects of having an alcoholic parent. Take a big step and hold onto our hands.

Reach out to us and let us become your support group. We’ll help you overcome your experience. Contact us today, and let us help you in any way we can.

Clinically Reviewed By

Dawn Masick, LMFT

Dawn has experience dealing with various relational, emotional, and psychological struggles. Dawn’s training has prepared her to work with children, teens, young adults, adults, couples, and families. She has undergone training in DBT, TF-CBT, and Family Therapy.  Other competencies include dealing with ADHD, mood/anxiety disorders, parenting challenges, addiction, PTSD, co- dependency, and relationship issues. I have experience in residential, school-based mental health, children’s community mental health, victims of crime (VOC), and private practice settings.

Dawn has been committed to guiding clients through their trauma, coming alongside them in their healing, and supporting them as they navigate life changes. Dawn’s passion is working with clients struggling with trauma in substance abuse and mental health.