Adult Children of Alcoholics: Eight Common Characteristics – For many in recovery, the issues caused by being reared by a parent or caregiver experiencing an active addiction continue to impede their ability to live emotionally balanced and healthy lives. A child who is raised with a parent who drinks excessively or uses drugs is never put first. As such, they are not provided with a healthy example to aspire to or the guidance they require to learn how to care for themselves, develop healthy relationships, and build a stable emotional foundation for life.
Instead, adult children of alcoholics (ACOAs) often encounter a myriad of problems in adulthood. Each of these issues can make it more challenging to find peace and balance, and many eventually resort to substance abuse as a means of dealing with those difficulties.
Eight Characteristics of Adult Children of Alcoholics
Among ACOAs, these are some of the most commonly recognized personality traits:
Impulsivity and Inconsistency
Adult children of alcoholics will often make impulsive choices or react to a particular situation without thinking through the consequences or considering alternatives. As a result, they will end up spending considerable time trying to fix the problems that arise as a result of concealing their mistakes.
ACOAs also tend to have difficulty following through with obligations, whether societally- or self-imposed. These may include a lack of commitment to their work and home lives, as well as interpersonal relationships. Although ACOAs often feel the need to care for people around them, they will also find it difficult to follow through and make good on many of their promises.
Withdrawal and Isolation
ACOAs frequently do not know what or how to respond in a normal or balanced way in any given situation and often guess (sometimes incorrectly) at the proper way to respond. Adult children of alcoholics often feel like they are different from those around them. Many ACOAs believe that they either cannot function interpersonally with other people or that they are entitled to special treatment and allowances for their dysfunctional behavior.
Either belief can make it challenging to sustain positive and healthy relationships. This sense of isolation can trigger a relapse among those engaging in substance abuse, causing them to isolate themselves further or rely on unhealthy relationships (including with other substance abusers) for social interaction.
Difficulty Maintaining Healthy Relationships
Because ACOAs often struggle to engage with others positively, they usually end up staying in unhealthy relationships too long or take themselves too seriously. In fact, healthy romantic relationships, in some cases, may seem nearly impossible, and extreme emotional ups and downs tend to occur.
Perception of Self as a Victim
ACOAs typically have difficulty recognizing the role that their decisions play in the course of their lives and relationships. Instead, they often place blame on people around them for the consequences of their decision. Because they have trouble admitting their mistakes, they often repeat them since they are unable to learn from them and make better, more informed choices in the future.
Because it is difficult to feel content and fulfilled when there is an underlying emotional problem, ACOAs can be extremely judgmental of themselves and others. Such feelings of emotional dissatisfaction can breed harsh judgments and criticisms that may be misguided, if not entirely false.
Ironically, adult children of alcoholics often prioritize the approval and opinions over their own yet have a tough time accepting criticism, even if it is well-meant, correct, and constructive. The ACOAs response may be knee-jerk and defensive, debasing the critic, claiming that they don’t know what they are talking about. Likewise, ACOAs may abruptly end discussions with some form of emotional manipulation, such as crying or the “silent treatment.”
Substance Use Disorders and Addiction
Although ACOAs know firsthand how destructive the use of alcohol and drugs can be, they may still develop substance use problems themselves. These problems may be due to a combination of genetics, growing up in a dysfunctional environment acceptive of excessive substance use and addiction, a lack of healthy coping mechanisms for stress, or other contributing factors.
Treatment for Adult Children of Alcoholics
Despite these negative aspects of adult children of alcoholics, each of them is a unique individual fighting an uphill battle against a disease that was given to them without their consent. And while these characteristics may be less than endearing, ACOAs deserve compassion from their friends and families, the wider public, and – perhaps most of all – themselves.
If you are suffering from a substance use disorder and were raised by an alcoholic or someone in active addiction, it can be extremely beneficial to seek help and improve your ability to stay sober. Addiction treatment helps people directly address the above issues that they are struggling with and give them the tools and support they so urgently need to reclaim a healthy and balanced life in sobriety.
Harmony Recovery offers an integrated approach to addiction that features evidence-based services essential to the recovery process, such as behavioral therapy, partial-hospitalization (PHP), group and individual counseling, and group therapy. We employ caring professionals who understand that addiction is a chronic disease, that all individuals are unique, and that patients should be comprehensively treated according to these foundational philosophies.
Contact us today and discover how we can help you reclaim the fulfilling life you deserve, free from substance abuse!