Are you an Adult Child of an Alcoholic or Dysfunctional Family?

Posted by on Apr 23, 2012 in Blog | 0 comments

Are you an Adult Child of an Alcoholic or Dysfunctional Family?

Believe it or not but a large group of people fit into the “Adult Child” group. If you grew  up in what you would consider a dysfunctional family, for many different reasons, this could be an added element to your identity. There are specific groups for specific types of dysfunction. For example, people who grew up in a family where there was a substance abuser you might fit into the Adult Children of Alcoholics group (ACoA or ACA). For those who grew up in a family where a member suffered from a chronic illness or mental illness, you might feel more at home with those in the Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families group (ACODF). For those who feel as though one parent suffered from narcissism then you might have more in common with the Adult Children of Narcissists group (ACON),

What does this mean for you? No more or less than you want it to. These are just terms that people use to clarify a set of confusing life patterns. At times it is helpful to know that you might belong to a group of people who may have experienced the same types of upbringing as yourself. People who grew up in these environments, which again is many many people, probably more than not, had specific relational patterns that kept the peace within the family. However these ways of interacting within the family might not support healthy relationships outside of the family. Once we grow up we unknowingly take the messages we learn from our family, and the rules on how to treat others and how others should treat us into our adult life. Many times these rules end up undermining our ability to have healthy relationships.

People who had parents who seemed to be pre-occupied with their own lives, or an environment that was chaotic and undependable, lacked nurture and consistency. Here are 14 Traits of Children of Alcoholics as found on

14 Traits of an Adult Child of an Alcoholic

  1. We became isolated and afraid of people and authority figures.
  2. We became approval seekers and lost our identity in the process.
  3. We are frightened of angry people and any personal criticism.
  4. We either become alcoholics, marry them or both, or find another compulsive personality such as a workaholic to fulfill our sick abandonment needs.
  5. We live life from the viewpoint of victims and we are attracted by that weakness in our love and friendship relationships.
  6. We have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility and it is easier for us to be concerned with others rather than ourselves; this enables us not to look too closely at our own faults, etc.
  7. We get guilt feelings when we stand up for ourselves instead of giving in to others.
  8. We became addicted to excitement.
  9. We confuse love and pity and tend to “love” people we can “pity” and “rescue.”
  10. We have “stuffed” our feelings from our traumatic childhoods and have lost the ability to feel or express our feelings because it hurts so much (Denial).
  11. We judge ourselves harshly and have a very low sense of self-esteem.
  12. We are dependent personalities who are terrified of abandonment and will do anything to hold on to a relationship in order not to experience painful abandonment feelings, which we received from living with sick people who were never there emotionally for us.
  13. Alcoholism is a family disease; and we became para-alcoholics and took on the characteristics of that disease even though we did not pick up the drink.
  14. Para-alcoholics are reactors rather than actors.

ACODF has a similar but slightly different “Laundry List” of traits:

1. Fear of losing control.
2. Fear of feelings.
3. Overdeveloped sense of responsibility.
4. Guilt feelings.
5. Inability to relax/let go/have fun.
6. Harsh, even fierce, self-criticism.
7. Denial.
8. Difficulty with intimate relationships.
9. Living life as a victim.
10. Compulsive behavior.
11. Tendency to confuse love and pity.
12. Fear of abandonment.
13. Tendency to view issues in terms of
black or white.
14. Tendency toward physical complaints.
15. Suffering from delayed grief.
16. Tendency to react rather than to act.

It is understandable that some may shy away from a label, especially one that may pinpoint the key to their issues. But finding yourself part of a larger community may also help you to start down the path towards healing and change. One does not have to identify with the label of “victim” to find refuge in ACoA or ACODF.  In fact, these labels might provide clarity to otherwise very confusing life long patterns that might include unhappy relationships, low self-worth, lack of direction, poor boundaries, constant need for affection or love, and many more.