child of an alcoholic

Confessions from an Adult Child of an Alcoholic

Every time my boss would walk in I would get nervous. I’d bury myself into my computer screen hoping to not be noticed. I felt like an eleven year old in a room full of adults.  The problem was that I was in my thirties. A deeply rooted fear of authority and constant need to please ruled my world.  Why?  Where did it come from? I started to take an honest look and seek answers to those questions.

During counseling and research, I came across the phrase Adult Child of an Alcoholic. I loved my dad and I know how much he loved me. He told me all of the time. However, he had deep, unresolved pain that he numbed with the bottle. It had a powerful effect on me. My growth into manhood was stunted. I lacked a confident identity and personal freedom. The most startling realization though was that, although I didn’t drink, I could still be passing on these effects to my children; mainly in what I was modeling. Left unidentified and unresolved, these unhealthy characteristics will plague our families from one generation to the next.

In the book Adult Children of Alcoholics, Dr. Janet Geringer Woititz identified 13 common characteristics. If you are an ACOA, or know one, there are probably struggles with at least a few of these. You can help stop the dysfunctional bloodline by spotting these 13 characteristics of adult children of alcoholics and seeking healing.

Don’t Know Normal.

Life was not normal and there was no point of reference to figure out what was normal. The only thing to do was to look at others and try to figure out the typical family life. It makes it tough to trust your own opinion and develop a strong sense of identity.

Difficulty Following Through.

An alcoholic tends to make a lot of promises that are broken. There traditionally is not a model of completing tasks. This characteristic can show up in the form of incomplete assignments and procrastination.

Lie When Telling the Truth is Easy.

The family covers up and makes excuses for the alcoholic. They work on hiding what’s happening behind closed doors. The behavior is practiced and perfected. There is a loss of reality.

Judge Themselves Mercilessly.

Many feel as though they can never do anything right because the alcoholic parent criticized them harshly. They dismiss their own accomplishments.

Difficulty Having Fun.

Growing up in a house with an alcoholic is stressful and filled with anxiety. In other words: not fun. ACOAs had to grow up quickly and repress their childhood. They want to have fun but have a deep fear of looking foolish.

Take Themselves Very Seriously.

Goes with difficulty having fun.

Difficulty with Intimate Relationships.

The messages sent while growing up are mixed. One minute loved, the next rejected. There’s a constant pull-push: I want you. Go away. Then there is a fear of abandonment.  An ACOA may ask, “Why would anyone love me?”

Overreact When Lacking Control.

Children of alcoholics were not in control. The common reaction is to gain control and gain it as soon as possible. Giving up control could send life into chaos so there is normally an overreaction to maintain it.

Need of Approval and Affirmation.

Many ACOAs have not received much affirmation, so they are in desperate need. Their self-image is defined by negative and/or confusing messages.They lose themselves in trying to please people.

Feel Like They Are Different.

They probably are because their childhood was different. In order to escape the pain, children of alcoholics tend to isolate themselves. In a group of people, they feel like they are the outcast. They will do unhealthy things to win friends like give gifts because they believe no one would want to be their friend otherwise.

Super Responsible or Super Irresponsible.

They take on everything without an understanding of their own limitations or give up and do nothing. One is driven by fear of being found out as incompetent—not at all grounded in reality. The other is driven by defeat.

Extremely Loyal—Even When Undeserved.

Children of alcoholics have lived through difficulty so they don’t bail when things get rough. Even when a relationship gets toxic, they will remain because it feels secure.


They get an idea in their head and have to do it regardless of the consequences or hurt they will cause. It’s almost like being caught in a strong current. This can make them feel out of control, which causes fear.

Huddle up with your wife and ask: “Do I have any of these characteristics?”