It is remarkable how children who grew up with alcoholism grow into adulthood with characteristics and personality traits very similar to others who went through the same type of experience.
The common characteristics that adult children of alcoholics share are also observed in adults who grew up in broken and other types of dysfunctional families. Children of alcoholics do not have a monopoly on these attributes.
However, almost all adults who were children of at least one alcoholic parent, can identify with at least some of these traits.
Best-selling author, Dr. Janet Woititz, and ACOA pioneer Tony A. both developed lists of characteristics deemed common to many whose childhoods were affected by alcoholism.
Below are the two lists from Dr. Jan, who literally wrote the book on "Adult Children of Alcoholics," and Tony, whose list appears in ACOA literature. See if you identify with any of these.
Dr. Jan's 13 Characteristics of Adult Children of Alcoholics
Adult Children of Alcoholics...
- Guess at what normal is.
- Have difficulty in following a project through from beginning to end.
- Lie when it would be just as easy to tell the truth.
- Judge themselves without mercy.
- Have difficulty having fun.
- Take themselves very seriously.
- Have difficulty with intimate relationships.
- Overreact to changes over which they have no control.
- Constantly seek approval and affirmation.
- Feel that they are different from other people.
- Are either super responsible or super irresponsible.
- Are extremely loyal, even in the face of evidence that loyalty is undeserved.
- Tend to lock themselves into a course of action without giving serious consideration to alternative behaviors or possible consequences. This impulsivity leads to confusion, self loathing, and loss of control of their environment. As a result, they spend tremendous amounts of time cleaning up the mess.
Tony A's 'The Laundry List'
Many adult children of alcoholics can:
- Become isolated
- Fear people and authority figures
- Become approval seekers
- Frightened of angry people
- Frightened of personal criticism
- Become alcoholics, marry them or both
- View life as a victim
- Have an overwhelming sense of responsibility
- Be concerned more with others than themselves
- Feel guilty when they stand up for themselves
- Become addicted to excitement
- Confuse love and pity
- 'Love' people who need rescuing
- Stuff their feelings
- Lose the ability to feel
- Have low self-esteem
- Judge themselves harshly
- Become terrified of abandonment
- Do anything to hold on to a relationship
- Become "para-alcoholics" without drinking
- Become reactors instead of actors
There Are Solutions
Those who have been deeply affected by spending their childhood with an alcoholic parent many times will seek professional therapy or counseling to deal with the issues that have followed them into adulthood.
Many have also found help by participating in mutual support groups such as Adult Children of Alcoholics or Al-Anon Family Groups. Visit the websites to find a meeting near you, or find an online meeting.
Janet G. Woititz, "The 13 Characteristics of Adult Children," The Awareness Center. Accessed August 2017.
Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization, "The Laundry List – 14 Traits of an Adult Child of an Alcoholic," (Attributed to Tony A., 1978). Accessed August 2017.
Learn more in Help for Families of Alcoholics.