Adult Children of Alcoholics: What Struggles Do They Face?

A key finding was that all subjects rated the ACOA profiles as highly descriptive of themselves regardless of their family history. Second, little difference existed in the self-descriptiveness ratings of ACOA and Barnum profiles, further suggesting that the ACOA descriptors appeared to function as Barnumlike statements. Third, and consistent with the larger literature on the Barnum effect, the personality descriptions were seen as better descriptions of the self than of people in general. That is, participants found these COA descriptions to be somewhat specific descriptions of themselves. This study illustrates why it should not be too surprising that many COA’s (and ACOA’s) find the portrayals in the media to be accurate descriptions of themselves. These characteristics are viewed as descriptive by most people, COA and non-COA alike.

With these caveats in mind, this article reviews two important classes of psychological variables—psychopathology and personality—that have been extensively investigated in recent years. More than 20 years ago, researchers first noted that children of alcoholics (COA’s) appeared to be affected by a variety of problems over the course of their life span. Such problems include fetal alcohol syndrome, which is first manifested in infancy; emotional problems and hyperactivity in childhood; emotional problems and conduct problems in adolescence; and the development of alcoholism in adulthood. Although much has been learned over the ensuing two decades, a number of controversial research areas remain.

On the other hand, people often go in the opposite direction, mirroring the same bad behaviors they witnessed during childhood. After growing up in an atmosphere where denial, lying, and keeping secrets may have been the norm, adult children can develop serious trust problems. Broken promises of the past tell them that trusting someone will backfire what is salvia on them in the future. Despite a common interest in COA’s, the literature based on clinicians’ experiences and the literature from the community of researchers have not overlapped to any great extent and have provided two distinct bodies of knowledge. This article primarily focuses on findings generated by the alcohol-research community.

  1. In other words, the alcoholic’s comorbid psychopathology was critical in predicting the psychopathological outcomes in relatives.
  2. Alcoholic parents pass several behavioral traits to their children through genes, a predisposition towards alcohol abuse and dependency being one of them.
  3. Whether a child’s parent is receiving addiction treatment for alcohol addiction or not, it’s important to offer a safe space for the child.

They learn to bury their feelings and struggle to express themselves in healthy ways. For young children of alcoholics, click here for a do-and-don’t list regarding coping. If you’re the child of a parent who has or had an alcohol use disorder or other substance use problems, seek out support, especially if you suspect it’s causing issues for you. Therapists and other mental health professionals with experience dealing with addiction can help. The list mentioned above is useful for explaining many of the children of alcoholics’ personality traits. The ACOA laundry list is a list of 14 traits that children of alcoholic parents commonly identify with.

Meehl (1956) termed these types of descriptions “Barnum” statements, in honor of the noted showman P.T. Barnum’s recipe for putting on a successful circus—make sure there’s a little something in it for everybody. In fact, many of the COA descriptors presented in the literature appear to possess the features of classic Barnum statements. Viewed from a societal viewpoint, it might look like the condition is a personal choice. However, when looked at from an expert’s perspective, there is some evidence that supports the genetic nature of alcoholism.

The presence of this gene is particularly common in individuals with alcohol and cocaine addiction. Alcoholic parent effects can vary from person to person, but the above-mentioned red flags are the most common signs that should raise a concern. The best-selling author Janet G. Woititz, popularly called Dr. Jan, has written a landmark “Adult methamphetamine oral route side effects” book. This book outlines the 13 characteristics of a child with an alcoholic syndrome. You can help people who are affected by alcoholism by making a donation to the Cleveland District Office.

Consequently, you might become more sensitive to criticism and rejection and have a harder time standing up for yourself. We meet to share our experience of growing up in an environment where abuse, neglect and trauma infected us. This affects us today and influences how we deal with all aspects of our lives. They’ll see other options and learn that it is possible to experience healthy, positive emotions. More than 40 years ago, Paul Meehl (1956) noted that people tended to accept a personality description as valid merely because it was so vague, double-headed, socially desirable, or widely occurring in the general population that it defied rejection. This type of personality description, although likely to receive high rates of acceptance, is also likely to be of little clinical value because it lacks the descriptive specificity and prognostic utility necessary to differentiate people.

The ACA Bill of Rights

For example, Nathan (1988) has questioned the motivational basis of these characteristics and has concluded that “it is primarily behavior and not personality” (p. 187) that is reflected by these measures. Although Nathan’s concern with the personality-based interpretation of many behavioral indicators of impulsivity/disinhibition is appropriate, it may be overstated. An increasing number of studies demonstrate that differences between COA’s and non-COA’s on personality questionnaire measures of impulsivity/disinhibition do not directly ask about deviant behaviors (Sher et al. 1995). At present it seems reasonable to conclude that traits related to impulsivity/disinhibition are important correlates of being a COA. In most studies, however, the magnitude of this association is not great, and it is possible that much of the association is attributable to comorbid antisociality tendencies in the alcoholic parent. Despite provocative findings concerning the link between parental alcoholism and childhood behavior problems, the existing database is limited.

in 5 children in the UK are affected by their parents’ drinking…

There are many support groups and resources like the Adult Children of Alcoholics organization that specialize in helping children of people who drink excessively. They offer tips on dealing with an alcoholic parent and providing emotional, and sometimes even financial, support. If you’re an adult child and lived with a parent with alcohol use disorder, there are ways to manage any negative effects you’re experiencing. Although people with AUD aren’t “bad” people (or “bad” parents), their alcohol use can create a home environment not suited for a child. A 2021 study shows that parental alcohol abuse significantly increases the chance of having a dysfunctional family environment. Having a parent with alcohol use disorder as a child can have negative effects, such as your own issues with alcohol as an adult — but that’s not always the case.

By examining the family history of addiction, it was found that relatives and adult children of alcoholic parents are four times more likely to be alcoholics themselves. These are the most common children of alcoholic parents’ personality traits. Still, it is worth remembering that every individual is different and their experiences are different, so this list is by no means complete or accurate for everyone. Growing up with a parent living with alcohol use disorder can have negative effects on children, including mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, and behavioral problems, such as aggression.

In particular, debate stems from the fact that despite a common interest in COA’s, clinically focused literature and research-focused literature have resulted in two distinct bodies of knowledge. This article reviews important research results, with emphasis on findings generated by the alcohol-research community. Attention also is given to examining the empirical validity of concepts that have been advanced by several influential clinicians from the COA field. There are many children of alcoholics meetings arranged by different organizations that focus on recovery through support and talking.

How Does Parental Alcoholism Affect Child Development?

The important thing to remember is that adult children of alcoholic parents do not have to go through the trauma by themselves and that it is possible to have a better life. Of course, it might be much harder for such persons to control alcohol consumption or abstain at all. Support of family and friends, therapy, stress management techniques, correct coping mechanisms, keeping oneself busy with healthy activities – all these things can help an individual who wants to have a healthy and sober life. However, this can become especially difficult in the presence of a parent who refuses to recognize his/her alcoholism problem and is unwilling to correct his/her behavior. Growing up with an alcoholic mother or father may create a tendency to isolate and develop formidable psychological defenses. Some children of alcohol abusers are prone to high-risk behaviors or are overactive and impulsive.

The important thing is to get help on how to live with an alcoholic parent from professionals and start the process of healing a broken family. When the alcoholic’s problems are introduced to these developing little minds it often causes issues that they are not developed enough to assimilate into their normal mental development. If they are introduced to all of these adult behavioral issues, it can be very confusing and they can be distracted from the natural mental growth process. These things might better be postponed until the alcoholic has put a few years between him and his troubled past, when the child can only see no threat from those old memories. A mental health professional can help you work through your past traumas and experiences and address how these have affected you as an adult.

Eventually and with the help of others, adult children will come to view alcoholism and other drug addiction as a disease and family dysfunction as the inevitable result. They will come to understand that their past cannot be changed, but they can unlearn their harmful coping mechanisms, tend to their childhood trauma and find “a sense of wholeness [they] never knew was possible.” Learn more about whether alcoholism is genetic, how alcoholism affects children, characteristics of children of alcoholics, risk factors among children of alcoholics and support for children of alcoholics. Experts highly recommend working with a therapist, particularly one who specializes in trauma or substance use disorders. According to Peifer, a mental health professional can help you connect deep-rooted fears and wounds stemming from childhood to behaviors, responses, and patterns showing up in your adult life. Early professional help is also important in preventing more serious problems for the child, including reducing risk for future alcoholism.

These complexities make it difficult to draw strong generalizations concerning the psychological characteristics of COA’s. It is, therefore, not surprising that the research literature is marked by a number of contradictory findings. Nevertheless, careful scrutiny of the literature reveals sufficient consistency in certain areas to offer some supportable generalizations.

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