Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOAs)

an image of an adult child of an alcoholic
Renaissance Recovery logo

By: Renaissance Recovery

Clinically Reviewed by: Diana Vo, LMFT

Last Updated:


Authored By: Joe Gilmore

Table of Contents

Adult children of alcoholics – commonly abbreviated to ACOAs, are people who spent their formative years caregivers or parents who abuse alcohol.

This guide highlights the many shared character traits of adult children of alcoholics. You can also discover how to embrace your genetic inheritance rather than being defined by being adult children of alcoholic parents.

What Is an ACOA?

ACOA is an acronym used to express the shared experiences of adult children of alcoholic parents. Alcoholic is a non-clinical term for AUD (alcohol use disorder). AUD is a chronic, relapsing brain condition characterized by compulsive alcohol consumption in the face of obviously negative outcomes.

Adult children of alcoholic parents may include anyone who spent their developmental years with parents or caregivers who:

  • Consume more alcohol than is considered moderate, safe and healthy.
  • Engage in any patterns of alcohol consumption that cause harm to themselves or others.
  • Are not able to control their use of alcohol.
  • Continue to drink alcohol regardless of negative consequences.
  • Experience problems at home and work due to alcohol abuse.

ACOAs often develop specific coping mechanisms to help them survive in dysfunctional environments. Initially, coping mechanisms may be central to a kid’s sense of survival in a household with alcoholic caregivers. Over time, though, those coping mechanisms can become part of the child’s personality. In later life, coping mechanisms once integral to the ACOA’s life spark relationship issues and mental health problems.

In the 1980s, Janet G. Woititz – an American psychologist –  published Children of Alcoholics. The text is based on the years Woititz spent working with ACOAs and includes a breakdown of characteristics common to ACOAs.

ACOAs Characteristics and Traits

There are many common characteristics of adult children of alcoholics. Adult children of alcoholics traits include:

  • Alcohol abuse
  • Drug abuse
  • Prescription drug abuse
  • Disordered eating
  • Gambling

ACOAs also often run into trouble in the following areas due to their dysfunctional upbringing:

  • Communication problems
  • Problems forming and maintaining relationships
  • Difficulty regulating emotions
  • Fears of conflict
  • Conflict avoidance
  • Extreme reactions to external change
  • Problems with authority figures
  • Inconsistency
  • Hypervigilance and anxiety
  • Abandonment fears
  • Codependency issues
  • Impulsive behaviors
  • Isolation

What To Do If You Are An ACOA

Here are some pointers to help you thrive as an ACOA:

  • Join a support group like Al-Anon intended for the loved ones of alcoholics or seek out adult children of alcoholics meetings.
  • Be compassionate to yourself and do not blame yourself for the actions of your parents.
  • Engage with therapy so you can process trauma, ACEs (adverse childhood experiences), and negative emotions grounded in growing up with alcoholic caregivers.
  • Practice self-care and look after your physical and mental health, focusing on getting enough sleep, and spending time doing what you enjoy.
  • Set and maintain boundaries with your parents so you can stop being defined by ACOA.

Alcohol Rehab at Renaissance Recovery

If you have developed an alcohol abuse problem yourself, kickstart your recovery at Renaissance Recovery Center in Huntington Beach.

 We offer the following outpatient programs for alcohol use disorder:

  • PHPs (partial hospitalization programs)
  • IOPs (intensive outpatient programs)
  • Virtual IOPs (remote rehab programs)

Access an individualized combination of holistic and science-based interventions that may include:

  • MAT (medication-assisted treatment)
  • Group therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Individual counseling
  • Psychotherapy
  • Experiential adventure therapy
  • Holistic therapy

Call 866.330.9449 today for immediate assistance.

long term effects of alcohol

Long-Term Effects of Alcohol Use

Just as drinking alcohol affects people differently, the long-term effects of alcohol abuse vary from person to person.  Although many of alcohol’s long-term side effects

Read More »
Closeup of a woman leaning on a table with her arms crossed, wondering about if you can miss wellbutrin and alcohol.

Wellbutrin and Alcohol

Wellbutrin and Alcohol The antidepressant Wellbutrin is heavily prescribed today to alleviate depression symptoms. While this medication can be a very helpful and effective tool, unwanted

Read More »
an image of a client

Pat C

“I owe my life and my happiness to these people. October 8th, 2019 marked two years of sobriety for me, and prior to finding Renaissance I hadn’t had 24 hours sober in nearly 20 years.”

an image of a client

Paige R

“They truly cared for me and the other people that I served with! From this group, I have made 8 new brothers and friends for life! We have continued on, after the program, to take care of each other”

an image of a client

Courtney S

“Great staff who took the time to get to know me. They have a lot of experience in this field and have first hand experience with what I was going through. IOP is outstanding and really built up a ton of great relationships and found this program to be a ‘breath of fresh air’.”

Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

Use Our 24 Hour text line. You can ask questions about our program, the admissions process, and more.