Adult Children of Alcoholics®/ Dysfunctional Families
What is an Adult Child?
The concept of Adult Child came from the Alateens who began the Hope for Adult Children of Alcoholics meeting. The original members of our fellowship, who were over eighteen years old, were adults; but as children they grew up in alcoholic homes.
Adult Child also means that when confronted, we regress to a stage in our childhood.
ACA History– an interview with Tony A., 1992
An adult child is someone who responds to adult situations with self-doubt, self-blame, or a sense of being wrong or inferior, all learned from stages of childhood.
Without help, we unknowingly operate with ineffective thoughts and judgments as adults. The regression can be subtle, but it is there sabotaging our decisions and relationships.
The following questions can help you decide if alcoholism or other family dysfunction existed in your family. If your parents did not drink, your grandparents may have drank and passed on the disease of family dysfunction to your parents. If alcohol or drugs were not a problem, your home may have been chaotic, unsafe, and lacking nurture like many alcoholic homes.
Am I an Adult Child?
- Do you recall anyone drinking or taking drugs or being involved in some other behavior that you now believe could be dysfunctional?
- Did you avoid bringing friends to your home because of drinking or some other dysfunctional behavior in the home?
- Did one of your parents make excuses for the other parent’s drinking or other behaviors?
- Did your parents focus on each other so much that they seemed to ignore you?
- Did your parents or relatives argue constantly?
- Were you drawn into arguments or disagreements and asked to choose sides with one relative against another?
- Did you try to protect your brothers or sisters against drinking or other behavior in the family?
- As an adult, do you feel immature? Do you feel like you are a child inside?
- As an adult, do you believe you are treated like a child when you interact with your parents? Are you continuing to live out a childhood role with the parents?
- Do you believe that it is your responsibility to take care of your parents’ feelings or worries? Do other relatives look to you to solve their problems?
- Do you fear authority figures and angry people?
- Do you constantly seek approval or praise but have difficulty accepting a compliment when one comes your way?
- Do you see most forms of criticism as a personal attack?
- Do you over-commit yourself and then feel angry when others do not appreciate what you do?
- Do you think you are responsible for the way another person feels or behaves?
- Do you have difficulty identifying feelings?
- Do you focus outside yourself for love or security?
- Do you involve yourself in the problems of others? Do you feel more alive when there is a crisis?
- Do you equate sex with intimacy?
- Do you confuse love and pity?
- Have you found yourself in a relationship with a compulsive or dangerous person and wonder how you got there?
- Do you judge yourself without mercy and guess at what is normal?
- Do you behave one way in public and another way at home?
- Do you think your parents had a problem with drinking or taking drugs?
- Do you think you were affected by the drinking or other dysfunctional behavior of your parents or family?
If you answered “yes” to three or more of these questions, you may be suffering from the effects of growing up in an alcoholic or other dysfunctional family. We welcome you to attend an ACA meeting in your area to learn more.
The questions above were taken from the trifold “25 Questions: Am I an Adult Child?” This and more literature can be found at local meetings, in the Literature Tab, and in our online store.
In addition to alcoholic and addicted families, there are at least five other family types that can produce Adult Children.
“Militaristic” types include those homes with ritualistic beliefs, harsh punishment, and extreme secretiveness, often with ultra-religious or sadistic overtones. Some of these homes expose children to battery and other forms of criminal abuse.
“Sexual Abuse” types include covert or actual sexual abuse, including incest and inappropriate touching or dress by the parent(s).
“Perfectionistic” types can be shaming homes in which expectations are often too high and praise is typically tied to an accomplishment rather than given freely.
ACA is an anonymous Twelve Step and Twelve Tradition fellowship. Our meetings offer a safe environment for adult children to share their common experiences. By attending meetings regularly and by sharing about our lives, we gradually change our thinking and behavior. By working the ACA program, we find another way to live.
Characteristics of Adult Children of Alcoholics
Adapted from Adult Children of Alcoholics, by Janet G. Woititz, Ed.D., 1987.
1) We guess at what normal behavior is. Because of our environment, we had no role models for normalcy, so we acted the way we saw other people act, people we thought were normal, and continue this performance into our adult lives.
2) We have difficulty following a project through from beginning to end; we procrastinate. Procrastination in the usual sense is the result of laziness. Adult children of alcoholics have never been taught how to solve a problem in systematic, manageable amounts. It was always all or nothing. Consequently, we don’t have adult life skills.
3) We lie when it would be just as easy to tell the truth. Lies, specifically lies of denial, were used to benefit the alcoholics and para alcoholics of our homes.
4) We judge ourselves without mercy. Since there is no way for us to meet the unattainable standards of perfection we have internalized from childhood, we are always falling short of the mark we have set for ourselves. If we are responsible for some positive outcome we dismiss it by saying, “Oh, that was easy,” and so on. This is often confused with humility but is actually poor self-esteem. We should keep our poor self-esteem in mind when taking the Fourth and Fifth steps.
5) We have difficulty having fun. For most of us having fun was just a childhood fantasy. We were always imprisoned by
the anger and hostility of alcoholism, even if physically removed from the alcoholic, the disease was already part of us.
6) We take ourselves very seriously. The normal spontaneity of childhood was squashed so many years ago by the pressure to be adult. Living with one or more addicts forced us to be on guard constantly. Seriousness was the only option. Now we can’t have fun.
7) We have difficulty with intimate relationships. For most of us the only reference of intimate relationships was that of our parents. Our inconsistent parent child relationships caused us to feel an overwhelming fear of abandonment. We are left too inexperienced and fearful to let ourselves get close to anyone.
8) We overreact to changes over which we have no control. As young children the addict’s life was inflicted on us as part
of our environment. Our only recourse was to try to take control totally. Now any change which we are unaware of or
have no control over leaves us feeling desperate and vulnerable.
9) We constantly seek approval and affirmation. The love we received as children was very erratic. The affirmations we didn’t get on a day to day basis as children, we interpreted as negative, leaving us with low self images. If someone likes us, gives us affirmation and accepts us, we usually judge them worthless. Our low self images thrive on this.
10) Because of our secretive childhood sufferings, we thought that things were always better in the “house next door.” NOBODY could possibly feel the same way as we did. Therefore, we felt unique, not a part of the group, and always looking in through an imaginary barrier.
11) We are super responsible or super irresponsible. So much of our lives are all or nothing when trying to please our parents we did more and more and more; some of us realized early in our childhood, that there simply was no pleasing them, so we did nothing. We people please until we burn out for two basic reasons; one, because we don’t have a realistic sense of our own capabilities or, two because if we say NO, we’re afraid someone might find out how inadequate we feel and no longer like us.
12) We are extremely loyal, even in the face of evidence that the loyalty is undeserved. Since starting a relationship is so difficult and frightening, when we do so we expect it to be permanent. This loyalty is usually caused by fear of abandonment. At home we always “hung in there” enabling the addict and denying the disease.
13) We are impulsive. As children our impulsivity was usually denied or covered up by our parents. We seldom suffered the consequences for impulsivity, leaving us with no deterrent, and we allow our impulsive behavior to continue in our adult lives.
Adapted from Adult Children of Alcoholics, by Janet G. Woititz, Ed.D., 1987.
ACA Nederlands – ACA Intergroup IG#711
ACA Adult Children of Alcoholics/Dysfunctional Families