Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOAs)

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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

February 3, 2023

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.

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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.

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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.

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