What is Adult Children of Alcoholics Syndrome?

by Angie Carter, CRADAC, SAP
(Holts Summit/Jefferson City, MO)

Angie's Blog

Angie's Blog

NOTE from Don: My wife, Angie Carter, is a Certified Substance Abuse Counselor. She writes a column for the Jefferson City News Tribune each month and is getting lots of fans...I'm very proud of her! Here is one of her most recent articles:

What is Adult Children of Alcoholics Syndrome?

Syndrome, as defined by the dictionary, is a group of signs and symptoms that are characteristic of a specific disease or other disorder. It can also mean events that form a recognizable pattern, especially of something undesirable. If one is raised in a home where alcoholism is prevalent, certain patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving can emerge from that upbringing.

I am an Adult of Child of an Alcoholic. For short, they use the term Adult Child or ACoA. The term ?Adult Child? best reflects the responses we frequently engage in, namely fear and self doubt, when dealing with adult interactions. We question our self worth and many times feel disconnected from life.
There is also a list of characteristics from the ACA book that help many individuals evaluate their situation and determine if they have this particular syndrome. It is called the ?laundry list.? Here is a condensed version of that list taken from the Adult Children- Alcoholic/Dysfunctional Families book.

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 by angry people and any personal criticism.
4. We either become alcoholics, marry them or both.
5. We live life from the viewpoint of victims.
6. We have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility and it is easier to be more concerned with others, this enables us not to look too closely at our own faults.
7. We experience guilt feelings when we stand up for ourselves instead of giving in.
8. We became addicted to excitement.
9. We confuse love and pity and tend to love people we can rescue.
10. We have stuffed our feelings from our traumatic childhoods and lost the ability to express them.
11. We judge ourselves harshly and have a very low sense of self-esteem.
12. We are dependent personalities who are terrified of abandonment.
13. We took on characteristics of alcoholism even though we may not drink.
14. Codependents are reactors rather than actors.

Most of these characteristics have an opposite that can also affect an Adult Child. For example we may feared authority figures -but then became an authority figure, possibly to our children, spouses or others. Most of my characteristics of being an Adult Child fell into this category.

These behaviors form the ?other laundry list? which includes:
1. Becoming a dominant authority figure
2. Victimizing others and projecting blame
3. Fits of rage and cursing
4. Engaged in fighting that goes beyond mere words
5. Stolen merchandise, written bad checks and possibly embezzled money

It is very difficult for Adult Children to give or receive love as we have not experienced healthy role modeling in this area. What we think is love or intimacy in reality is codependency or intensity. Many Adult Children drown out childhood of origin feelings through a variety of addictive and compulsive behaviors. Because of the alcoholism and dysfunction in my family I also turned to alcohol and other unhealthy coping mechanisms. I was sober many years before I was able to see and deal with these particular issues. I eventually knew that if I didn?t address and work on these concerns that I would not be able to sustain a healthy marital relationship.

Taking an inward journey of this type is never an easy thing to do. It can be very painful going through the process of uncovering, discovering and discarding. Personally I used a combination of therapy and a 12-step process in order to do this. I have made great strides in healing the trauma and dysfunction from my past, but for me it is an ongoing process. The progress of healing is evidenced in my present day relationships and marriage.

Some of the obstacles in doing this type of work can be feelings of guilt associated with ?betraying? our parents as we explore how the dysfunction of our upbringing has impacted us. One of the first things we learn as we begin our journey is to understand the difference between blaming our parents and getting honest about the reality of our childhood experiences. Simple put, my mother (father was absent) did the best she could and she loved all of her children. That does not mean there was not dysfunction. There was. In recovery I learned how to continue the love for my mother, get honest about what happened, and take the necessary steps in order to heal from it. I eventually also experienced forgiveness towards my father for the abandonment.

I encourage anyone who feels they may be affected by Adult Child Syndrome, to research it further and experience the freedom that healing can bring. There is a profound quote that has stuck with me for many years and that being?Pain is inevitable ? suffering is optional. There is hope and there is help.

Angie Carter, CSAC II
(573) 634-2254

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May 07, 2017
by: Anonymous

I always knew my husband was a child of an alcoholic. His father has been in recovery for 47 years, I never knew the effect it had on him, or his 3 sisters. I did realize that my husband's sisters had strange traits. Back in the beginning of our relationship, I asked him not to speak to me in the same manner as his father spoke to his mother. I didn't like it and I told my husband so. We have 3 almost adult children now. My husband and I have been married for almost 25 years. After what I thought were good but busy 25 years of teamwork, love and friendship, my husband turned into a complete stranger. He started lying and started an affair with a co-worker, a month into their sexual affair, he moved in with her. As I saw a therapist for the issues I was dealing with on his departure, he kept saying tat he wasn't happy. he never said it before he left, just after. My husband didn't know about this adult child of Alcoholism until our marriage counselor brought it up. Has he researched this? I don't know. I do know however that he seems to have shut the door on me and has moved on...right after we purchased our perfect retirement home. we were 3 short years until we reached the point we would move to our retirement home. I wish I had known, I wish I could have helped. He has thrown away our 25 years, and the 3 adult children's love

Dec 19, 2016
Wow, it's starting to make sense.....
by: Jim

My ex-wife grew up in this catigory and I was very ignorant of the whole interplay and role playing that was actually taking place. As I read more about this, I see what I was dealing with and am able to forgive myself somewhat. The list of charactoristics is very nearly word for word thoughts that my ex described over the past 10-12 years as our relationship deteriorated. Of course, I was the instigater of her feelings in any description she gave. I saw the personality of her mother begin to move in after our second child, and after a several month visit from MOM, who my ex wanted to help "get back on her feet". Mom got a job, her own apartment, went to a party, met a man who she took to her apaetment and he broke her back that very night. Mom was in the hospital for months, then moved away with another man my ex described as " a child molester". Years later she died, and my ex began acting out dialogue that sounded "familiar". She could not accept my mentioning that I did not marry her mother, and I wanted my wife back. Eventually, she left the home after finding an on line relationship. She turned up the heat once meeting him to try to drive me away. She kept her plans secret. My children knew we would divorce before I did, and she deneyed it several times before the final month she spent packing, alternatly saying she was leaving or lust rearanging things. My pleas for direct, honest information were ignored. So... Two and a half years later I am still coming to terms with WHAT HAPPENED. My children live with her, in spite of "shared custody", and I have learned that agreements end when they finish echoing in the room. As I learn more about it through sites like this, I have just one lingering question. " Could it ever have been fixed". Through my action, I mean. Or was this simply destined to happen? I grew up on "tough love". She grew up with "enablement". Its too bad because now I am 59 and my prospects of finding a suitable mate are limited in my community. I continue to bring my boys to church, support their interests, but I generally am unhappy and still shell shocked from the end of a 28 year relationship. I have a current girlfriend, but she has her share of issues (as do I) and I just generally dont feel comfortable, hardly ever. I understand the child, parent, adult model for behavior, but I am often accused of being slow to respond, as I consider my words and responses to certain challenges. I am simply baffled at peoples lack of couth, verbal skills, and empathy. I believe words matter, and can be used well, or poorly. I spend a grear deal of time trying to figure out what some people "really mean" when they say what they do. Thanks for listening, I trust this entry will be catharsis for me, and who knows what you will get from it. I use to reward my professers with the offer of a good stiff drink if they made it this far in a term paper. Sorry, you'll have to provide your own.

Mar 27, 2016
by: Don

Hi Lori,

This is Don... we moderate and comment when we can. In fact, we read every submission and every comment, deleting the spam and hateful or otherwise inappropriate comments and submissions.

However, we have thousands of comments and hundreds of submissions coming in all the time as these issues are rampant. We can comment as soon as a submission comes in, but have found it to stymie comments from others which is not good as we can only hope to build a support community where everyone shares their "experience, strength, and hope" with each other.

Greg: It is encouraging that you want to like "The man in the glass" -- In fact, there is a well loved poem with that tile shared over and over again at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings all over the world by people who can now say they like the Man/Woman in the Glass! Go for it and if you need help, get treatment first.

All our best!
Don and Angie

Mar 25, 2016
Angie--do respond to the comments?
by: Lori

Greg--I just found this site and hope you are well! It has been over a year since you posted your comment and I hope someone responded to you. I am 50 years-old and find myself feeling just as you do in regards to feeling hopeless. Lori

Jun 27, 2014
Now what?
by: Greg

I am 52 yrs old and I have been living my whole life with all 14 symptoms,needless to say my life has been a living hell. I never considered my parents to be alcoholics but rather I was just brought up in a very dysfunctional family. I have been in and out of treatment my whole life and this has never been brought to my attention. My Dad however displayed the other side of the coin. Is it possible my parents displayed these traits because they were children of alcoholics? Alcoholism seemed just to be the way of life and still is, in the town I grew up in Wisconsin. It has always been explained that my family was just very dysfunctional,which it was,but no one ever gave me an explanation why it was dysfunctional. It has been impossible for me to accomplish the things I have set out to do and I usually just gave up. Turning to alcohol and drugs was my way of dealing with my feelings of unworthiness. I have tried to over come my addictions but my lack of accomplishments and self worth always brought me back to the inevitable.I just want to be able to live in the moment and enjoy it instead of living with the whys and what ifs. I do feel better because for the first time I have some sense that there may be some hope. Thank you for posting this article. Now I just need to figure out what I can do to help myself instead of feeling sorry for myself. At this point life really sucks. I just would like to look in the mirror and like the person I am looking at.

Apr 01, 2014
Looking for a Good Therapist
by: sarah

Does anyone know of a good therapist or whomever in the Tacoma/seattle Washington area. I am in need of help.

Oct 20, 2012
by: Anonymous

Does any one know of therepsts qualified in this area in the Lewiston/ Auburn, Maine area?
Or any area nearby?
Thank you!!

Oct 17, 2010
To Marsha
by: Anonymous

Definitely made all the difference in the world, especially in my closest relationships. I can be much more authentic now. I know a couple (they are friends of my husband and I) and they both go to ACoA and they just went on an extensive trip around several states. They couldn't find any ACoA meetings anywhere (except one that wasn't too functional) They came back SO grateful that we have a two groups in our area. I, too, am most grateful for our ACA recovery in this area. We are very fortunate.

Oct 16, 2010
by: marsha pharrnonymous

i too am a substance abuse counselor. UCI program in the '80s.........my program of healing is Adult Children [ACA] which today some people refer to as ACoA. [ok my age is showing] there's other 12 step programs, of course, that I like i.e. Coda however, ACA is still my all time fav.

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