Defining ACOAs: 6 Most Common Traits of Adult Children of Alcoholics

adult children of alcoholics

While alcohol abuse can result in physical, emotional, social, and financial harm to the individual struggling with addiction, the pain of substance abuse doesn’t stop with the user. Individuals with parents who struggle with alcoholism tend to suffer from strained relationships with their parents. Moreover, they tend to experience a unique set of hardships to which only a fellow ACOA might relate.

6 Common Characteristics of Adult Children of Alcoholics

If you’d like to learn more about the often painful challenges that being an adult child of an alcoholic presents, consult these six most common traits of Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOAs).

1Increased likelihood of substance abuse problems

Relationships with parents struggling with alcoholism can be complicated, but one fact is simple: being the adult child of an alcoholic isn’t easy. For various reasons, alcoholics are statistically more likely to have at least one alcoholic parent than those who don’t struggle with substance abuse. As such, increased alcoholism in ACOAs is not rare. Due to emotional distress, childhood trauma, and the genetic component of addiction, ACOAs may require professional treatment to manage potential substance abuse.

2Harsh criticism of self

Many children of alcoholics were raised in chaotic or unstable environments where they didn’t receive the emotional support that they needed. In response to an upbringing that may have been rife with rejection or judgment, ACOAs tend to criticize themselves harshly. Some might even blame themselves for their parent’s disease and self-criticize their thoughts and actions in response to criticism they faced during their early development.

If an alcoholic parent never sought help through a professional counseling or rehab center, their child will likely continue to suffer the strain of their relationship even through adulthood.

3Extreme loyalty

Since ACOAs were often put in the position to defend or take care of their parents throughout their struggle with addiction, adult children of alcoholics often display loyalty even to those who may have hurt them. Unfortunately, this learned behavior can contribute to the development of unhealthy adult relationships.

ACOAs are statistically more likely to marry alcoholics than those without alcoholic parents. Several factors influence this pattern, including familiarity with such behaviors and a desire to hold onto and take care of people who need help.

4Trouble fitting in

ACOAs often feel that they don’t fit in with “normal” people and may even feel broken or damaged due to their lack of a relationship with a parent who was able to reflect their worth and value positively. What’s more, adult children of alcoholics may feel isolated by their experiences and don’t have access to connections with peers who understand what they have gone through.

5Emotional in difficult-to-control situations

While situations that feel out of control will likely cause most people to feel at least somewhat uncomfortable, children with alcoholic parents may find themselves experiencing heightened emotions during challenging scenarios.

When alcohol is a problem for a parent, their children are often put in uncomfortable positions and cannot predict their parent’s behavior or the safety of their environment. They also may have undergone or witnessed abuse and suffering in situations they had no control over.

6Higher need for validation

Suppose an ACOA was raised surrounded by role models and parental figures who could not offer a stable environment or healthy validation. In that case, they may experience insecurity and a heightened need for confirmation or reassurance. Unfortunately, a lack of validation and self-worth building in a person’s early life can have far-reaching effects in the future.

The takeaway

If you or someone you love are an adult child of an alcoholic, you must understand that you are not alone. While the journey of an ACOA is not an easy one, children of alcoholics can break the cycle through self-reflection and professional support.