silhouette of people standing in a row

Adult Children of Alcoholics: A Quick Overview


Sober Recovery Expert Author

silhouette of people standing in a row

Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA) is a 12-Step support group for those who were raised in dysfunctional environments, primarily due to one or both parents suffering from alcoholism [1]. Founded in 1978 by “Tony A.” and members of Alateen, the ACA fellowship now spans across the U.S., many countries overseas and online for those without access to meetings in their area.

The Difference Between ACA, Al-Anon and Alateen Programs

Al-Anon and its youth version Alateen are support groups for the families and friends of alcoholics with programs that propose living serenely in a dysfunctional setting through self-forgiveness. The Alateen members who founded ACA felt the need for a recovery program to be available that would help with relationship-building issues they may have developed as children. This is why ACA’s purpose gravitated towards facilitating recovery for those with personal identity, self-esteem or self-worth problems commonly found in adults who grew up around dysfunction in their environment.

Adult Children of Alcoholics aims to help adults recover from the emotional trauma or neglect they experienced as children raised in a dysfunctional home. Find out if you may benefit from the program.

Symptoms of the Adult Child

ACA’s goal is to help adults who grew up with social disabilities function better in all relationships. Many of those who come from homes touched by substance abuse issues, sometimes described as “adult children,” have specific developmental delays and personality traits that can be worked through using self-help techniques similar to 12-step recovery programs. Ultimately, membership in ACA provides adult children a place to be heard and understood by people who have lived through a similar past as well as a chance to find new ways of functioning in the world around them.

In the book Adult Children of Alcoholics by Janet Woititz, the author recognizes the following list of symptoms in adults raised in alcoholic environments.

  1. Adult children of alcoholics guess at what normal behavior is.
  2. Adult children of alcoholics have difficulty following a project through from beginning to end.
  3. Adult children of alcoholics lie when it would be just as easy to tell the truth.
  4. Adult children of alcoholics judge themselves without mercy.
  5. Adult children of alcoholics have difficulty having fun.
  6. Adult children of alcoholics take themselves very seriously.
  7. Adult children of alcoholics have difficulty with intimate relationships.
  8. Adult children of alcoholics overreact to changes over which they have no control.
  9. Adult children of alcoholics constantly seek approval and affirmation.
  10. Adult children of alcoholics usually feel that they are different than other people.
  11. Adult children of alcoholics are super responsible or super irresponsible.
  12. Adult children of alcoholics are extremely loyal, even in the face of evidence that the loyalty is undeserved.
  13. Adult children of alcoholics are impulsive. They tend to lock themselves into a course of action without giving serious consideration to alternative behaviors or possible consequences. This impulsivity leads to confusion, self-loathing, and loss of control over their environment. In addition, they spend an excessive amount of energy cleaning up the mess [2].

Attending ACA Meetings

ACA is based on the success of Alcoholics Anonymous and employs its own version of the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions. However, it is an independent program and is not affiliated with other 12 Step denominations. The only requirement for ACA membership is being raised in a dysfunctional household, where adult children may have developed symptoms of abuse, shame and abandonment.

During meetings, members share and listen to each other’s stories and begin to find the unhealthy parts of their childhood. They come to understand how their experiences may have shaped their attitudes, behavior and choices as adults. Through this, the adult children get to reconnect with their “inner child” and recognize who they truly are. With the help of working the 12-Steps and the acceptance of a loving Higher Power, ACA aims to help adult children find freedom from an unhealthy past [1]. To find an ACA meeting near you, visit

If you or someone you know is seeking help from addiction, please visit our directory of treatment centers or call 800-891-8171 to speak to a treatment specialist.


[1] Welcome to Adult Children of Alcoholics/Dysfunctional Families. (2015, September 22). Retrieved from

[2] Adult Children of Alcoholics and its Beginnings. (2015, September 22). Retrieved online from

[3] Woititz, J.G. (1983). Adult Children of Alcoholics. Health Communications, Inc., Deerfield Beach, FL 33442.

Stay Connected
Subscribe to our newsletter to get addiction help, recovery inspiration and community tips delivered to your inbox.
No Thanks. I'm not Interested