The term Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA) comes up quite often in rehab programs and recovery meetings across the nation. ACOA is used to describe adults who grew up in a family where alcoholism was present. They develop certain traits that may work for a child but, unfortunately, these traits aren’t suitable for adults.
Imitation is how most children model their behavior, and an ACOA is no different. They grow up learning and imitating dysfunctional behavior. Therefore, these survival skills are carried forward into adulthood, despite a lack of effectiveness.
From the survival skills learned during childhood, these 5 traits are the most common among Adult Children of Alcoholics.
1. They feel they must be in control of behavior and feelings at all times.
This desire for control may be a reaction to growing up in chaos, in which active alcoholism was present. Thus, this tendency to want to be in control at all times is grounded in fear. If all aspects of life cannot be controlled, an ACOA will automatically assume it will get worse.
2. Survival skills prevent intimate relationships.
Being intimate requires releasing some control and being vulnerable. This is difficult for an ACOA, as love is usually perceived as trying to rescue people or fix other people’s problems. Hiding feelings and not expressing them for fear of consequences is a survival skill picked up out of necessity. For this reason, intimate relationships are hard for ACOAs to develop and maintain.
3. Striving for perfection leads to a heightened sense of responsibility.
Children in alcoholic families often feel that they might get positive attention if they are “perfect”. However, in many cases, whatever they do is not enough. Their self-esteem comes from how they are viewed by others. They can be extremely self-critical, never accepting the good qualities they possess.
4. A tendency toward compulsive behavior.
As Adult Children of Alcoholics, the likelihood of abusing alcohol increases significantly. Furthermore, an ACOA may also gravitate towards other compulsive behavior such as gambling, binge eating, or codependency.
5. Adult Children of Alcoholics have abandonment fears.
This likely stems from the unpredictable nature of an ACOA’s upbringing. A child of an alcoholic rarely knows what’s coming next — it could be a hug or a slap. They tend to believe that any relationship, no matter how bad or abusive, is better than none at all. As a result, they often do anything to hang on to current relationships.
Alcohol abuse within the family affects all members, not just the substance abuser. Consequently, children growing up in this environment have a particularly difficult time. Living under these circumstances results in low self-esteem, compulsive behavior, mental ailments, and a defensive mindset among other negative traits.