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Adult Children of Alcoholics provides a community of support for those suffering from the effects of growing up in a dysfunctional home.

Adult Children of Alcoholics, abbreviated ACA, is a support group and community for those who grew up in a dysfunctional or alcoholic environment. Similar to Alcoholics Anonymous, ACA is also a 12-step and 12 tradition program that aims to understand and overcome the habits and behaviors of children who grew up in dysfunctional households.

According to the ACA fellowship textbook, the program isn’t a replacement for any other recovery program but an additional program to help those still affected by hardships from their childhood. The textbook states, “Adult Children of Alcoholics is often the only program for many adult children recovering from the effects of alcoholism or other family dysfunction, including the effects of alcoholism and drug addiction.”

Adult Children of Alcoholics Meetings

Meetings are a safe space where people can be vulnerable and relate to others with the same struggles. The goal is to find freedom from the past and work to overcome the unhealthy elements from childhood.

Who does Adult Children of Alcoholics serve?

ACA is a resource available to anyone who wants to recover from the effects of growing up in an alcoholic or otherwise dysfunctional family. In addition, there are no dues, and the program receives funding through donations and voluntary contributions. ACA has no affiliation with any other 12-step program or any religious, institutional, or political organization.

ACA uses a “laundry list” to define the 14 traits of an “adult child”. If any of these traits apply to you, they will welcome you into the program. These traits include:

  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, or find another compulsive personality such as a workaholic to fulfill our sick abandonment needs.
  5. We live life from the viewpoint of victims, and we are attracted by that weakness in our love and friendship relationships.
  6. We have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility, and it is easier for us to be concerned with others rather than ourselves; this enables us not to look too closely at our faults, etc.
  7. We get guilt feelings when we stand up for ourselves instead of giving in to others.
  8. We became addicted to excitement.
  9. We confuse love and pity and tend to “love” people we can “pity” and “rescue.”
  10. We have “stuffed” our feelings from our traumatic childhoods and have lost the ability to feel or express our feelings because it hurts so much (Denial).
  11. We judge ourselves harshly and have a very low sense of self-esteem.
  12. We are dependent personalities who are terrified of abandonment and will do anything to hold on to a relationship to not experience painful abandonment feelings, which we received from living with sick people who were never there emotionally for us.
  13. Alcoholism is a family disease, and we became para-alcoholics** and took on the characteristics of that disease even though we did not pick up the drink.
  14. Para-alcoholics are reactors rather than actors.

As a note, even though ACA created the “Laundry List” for individuals raised in families that suffered from alcoholism, the program has expanded over time. It now serves all those raised with all different types of family dysfunction.

Even though the effects of alcoholism are evident in the laundry list, members of ACA are affected by more than just alcohol abuse.

**In addition, para-alcoholic is an outdated term. In the past, it meant those affected by an alcoholic’s behavior. The term has now developed to describe co-alcoholics and codependents.

What happens during Adult Children of Alcoholics meetings?

During an ACA meeting, people share what is happening in their lives and how they deal with these issues. The focus is on sharing experiences, strength, and hope. By attending these meetings, individuals build personal support networks and practice recovery and personal boundaries.

There is also a list of things to not do during an ACA meeting. These include not criticizing or commenting on what others say. You should also avoid offering advice, distracting others when someone is speaking, and not repeating what people share during the meetings.

If you think you or a loved one can benefit from the support of Adult Children of Alcoholics, you can find a list of all the meetings here.

How Having Alcoholic Parents Can Affect Children

Parents are a crucial part of childhood. Having parents with alcohol use issues can have a substantial impact on the development of a child. When a parent has alcohol addiction, they are often unaware of the impact it is having on those around them, especially their children. Being a child of an alcoholic often means you have experienced neglect, which not only affects the childhood experience but also affects adulthood. Many adult children of alcoholics need to grieve their childhood. This is because of the likelihood of having experienced neglect, abuse, trauma, or all of these.

Addiction rarely affects just one person. Living with an addict is extremely tough and can cause lifelong issues, even if the addict is successfully in recovery. Issues can often manifest around control. This is because of the lack of control experienced throughout childhood. This usually leads to problems during adulthood.

Common Traits of Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA)

Relationship Troubles

Many adult children of alcoholics have difficulties maintaining romantic relationships. It is not uncommon for relationships to be rocky and short-lived. Some may even stay in unhealthy or dangerous abusive relationships for a long time. This is often a result of the lack of positive experiences they have had with others during life, especially those that mean a lot to them. Negative experiences with others are seen as “normal” because of the lack of love, care, and affection they received in their childhood.

Poor Time Management, People Pleasing and Over-committing

The need to “people please” often leads to poor time management because of overcommitments. This is a common trait linked to the feeling that the ACOA must look after others and take on their problems. Because of this, they may not meet their commitments and seem unreliable.

Acting Impulsively

Impulsive behavior is often apparent in ACOAs. They may respond irresponsibly to certain situations or act “out of character” by making decisions without thinking about the consequences. This impulsivity can mean they are often attempting to sort problems that arise because of this.

Reacting Disproportionately

ACOAs can struggle with change. They may overreact to it and struggle to see any positives associated with change. It can be difficult for them to look at the overall picture and respond appropriately. They may instead react emotionally, become angry and not be able to take a step back and assess the situation.

Isolating Themselves from Others

As an ACOA it can be hard to determine what is “normal” and what isn’t. They may view others around them as different and struggle to fit in with other people. This is likely the same reason that ACOAs struggle in relationships. The response to this feeling is often to isolate themselves and avoid interacting too much with others.

Unfairly Judging Others

Because of the environment, many ACOAs grow up in and the issues this causes, they may unfairly judge others. They may have difficultly becoming close to friends because of this, especially if they express this judgment. It also isn’t uncommon for ACOAs to unfairly judge themselves, too.

Using Lies or Exaggeration Unnecessarily

As most ACOAs have others lie to them to throughout their childhood, they may struggle with telling the truth. This is because they may be unaware of when telling the truth is an entirely acceptable response and when it isn’t. As such, they may lie or exaggerate details in conversations, sometimes without even meaning to.

Feeling The Need for Approval

It is common for ACOAs to have a tough time receiving criticism. This is even the case with constructive criticism. They may respond in an aggressive or defensive manner, even if there is truth to the criticism to silence the other person. Some may use manipulative tactics such as crying, shouting down the other person or turning them into a villain.

Using Substances & Forming Addictions

Substance use and addiction are commonplace in ACOAs, even though they are aware of the devastation they can cause. Although it is difficult to pinpoint the reason for this, it can be as simple as being raised in an environment where substance use is normal. Some may also use substances as a method to cope with stress or mental health issues.

ACOA and Triggers

ACOAs may have an extensive list of triggers that can bring up memories of trauma or cause them to act or respond in a certain way. This is very common in people that have traumatic experiences. For example, soldiers with PTSD may react to sounds that are similar to those of weapons. Similarly, an ACOA can have triggers because of the trauma they carry with them daily. An ACOA may find themself triggered in situations that occur in relationships, such as disagreements and arguments, raised voices or changed tones. Relationships with partners can be tough for an ACOA, so can parenting and can bring up a lot of triggers. They may see similarities in their family dynamic or experience scenarios that remind them of trauma they faced through their own childhood. It is therefore a good idea for ACOAs to seek help before starting their own families and work through their trauma to avoid dysfunctional families of their own.

Advice for ACOAs – How To Get Help

If you are an ACOA, remember you are not alone. There are many others like you that have grown up in an environment where addiction was part of their childhood experience. You are not responsible for the behavior of your parents, or their addictions. It is not your fault that your parents used alcohol, even if you tell yourself it is. Your parent’s alcohol use likely caused trauma in your life and has led to you struggling in adulthood. However, there are many others like you that have worked through their trauma and have happy lives.

You can get support through ACA. If you think you or a loved one can benefit from the support of Adult Children of Alcoholics, you can find a list of all the meetings here.

We can help you too at Cardinal Recovery. Call us today (855) 928-1987 or send an email and take the first step towards your recovery as an ACOA.

You don’t have to suffer in silence; we have teams of professionals that can help if you have an alcohol or drug addiction of your own, whether it’s alcohol or any other substance. There are always options available to you to get the support and guidance you need to live a happy and healthy life.