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Adult Children of Alcoholics

Many adults who grew up in alcoholic homes have experienced adjustment problems that have continued past childhood. Collectively, these adults are called adult children of alcoholics (ACOA). The effects of parental drinking upon a child can linger for many years. ACOA often experience difficulty in forming intimate relationships, guilt, poor self-esteem, procrastination, or workacholic tendencies. It has also been found that ACOA are at significant risk for the abuse of alcohol and other substances with addiction potential. Research studies have also found that ACOA exhibit greater levels of anxiety and other psychological problems than adults who did not grow in alcoholic homes.

Characteristics of adult children of alcoholics can include:

  • somatic complaints
    (i.e., nausea, headache)
  • compulsive behavior
  • need for alcohol
  • inability to relax
  • difficulty establishing close relationships
  • self-protection
  • social withdrawal
  • highly responsible, or perhaps highly irresponsible
  • feelings of guilt, self-blame for parental alcoholism
  • depression

Self-help groups have been formed to help ACOA deal with the emotional scars they bear. It is helpful for them to interact with others who can understand the pain -- and often rage -- internalized by so many. If left unresolved, these feelings can have a very destructive lifelong impact. ACOA work together to understand and lessen these feelings. It is felt that working through these issues can allow healing to take place.

This movement is not without its critics. Some believe that focusing on past events limits personal growth as an adult. Others feel that the belief that one is a victim can be self-serving and destructive. Still others fear that dependence upon the group for emotional support can be restrictive. However, supporters argue that one cannot deny victimization and that current emotional and behavioral problems are often rooted in the past. They feel that only by identifying unhealthy defense mechanisms and modes of reasoning associated with parental alcohol abuse can ACOA learn to respond to life's stressors in a healthy way.