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Common Traits of Adult Children of Alcoholics

The field of alcohol treatment has grown tremendously in the last 20 years. Part of a growing understanding in the field is recognizing the unique traits that develop when there is alcoholism in a family. It's common for children in an alcoholic family to later exhibit low-self esteem, fear, lack of confidence, and a need to control one's environment. 

This article will list some common traits of those who grew up in alcoholic families. It should be noted that these traits are not necessarily true for all adult children of alcoholics. And at the same time, it's possible that these traits may be true for any adult who was raised in a dysfunctional home. Some of these characteristics may even apply to those families in which a member has or is currently attending a drug and alcohol treatment center. It is frequently the case that when there was an addiction in the home, even though it's being tended to, the dysfunctional patterns were likely present for awhile and may remain even after treatment is sought after.

Some of the traits of adult children of alcoholics include:

Fear of Losing Control – Adult children of alcoholics tend to want to control feelings and behavior of others as well as their own. There is usually an underlying fear that if this sort of control is relinquished, life will become more problematic. 

Conflict Avoidance – When a person of authority is in the room, an adult child of alcoholism is particularly sensitive. They do not take any criticism well and will have a fear of anyone in authority. At the same time, they will tend to seek approval from that authority figure and lose their own sense of identity.

Approval Seeking – Along with the point above, adult children of alcoholism tend to put the needs of others first. This is due in part because their sense of self worth comes from the judgments of others. This leads to a pattern of perfectionism and seeking acceptance from others.

Inability to Relax – The young child inside the adult has difficulty relaxing and having fun. In fact, there might even be a fear associated with relaxation because it tests their need to control feelings, behavior, and inner experiences.

Self-Critical and Low Self Esteem – Due to seeking approval from others and not believing in their own competencies, adults who were raised with an alcoholic family tend to have a very low self esteem and can be very self-critical.

Compulsivity- Having learned certain dynamics in their family of origin, an adult child of alcoholism will tend to be drawn to compulsive personalities in their relationships as well as be drawn to exhibiting compulsive behavior towards working, eating, or even alcohol or drugs.

Difficulty with Intimacy – Intimacy challenges the level of control that an adult child of alcoholism has over his or her life. They typically have difficulty with expressing their needs in intimate relationships.

Victim Mindset – Often, an adult child of alcoholism has a mentality of being a victim, including not feeling connected to his or her own power. Instead, they tend to blame others for their own challenges versus taking responsibility and making the changes they want or need to in life.

Abandonment – The pain of abandonment, often experienced in some form during childhood, will lead to staying in dysfunctional relationships as an adult. In order to avoid the extreme pain of abandonment, an adult child of alcoholism will stay in a relationship regardless of the level of its dysfunction.

Grief – Depression is also common among adult children of alcoholism. Losses during childhood are often rarely resolved in an alcoholic home and thus making their appearances again in adulthood.

Overreacting - An adult child of alcoholism tend to be hyper vigilant of their surroundings and of the behavior and responses of others. Furthermore, they have a tendency to see most events and people in extremes, particularly when under stress or pressure.

Living in Chaos – As mentioned above, an adult child of alcoholism tends thrive on high levels of adrenaline. He or she is very familiar with chaos, and this often includes the presence of drugs and/or alcohol.

These are some typical traits of those who were raised in alcoholic homes. These may not be true for everyone with alcoholic parents, but research has found that these are common characteristics. Learning about these can facilitate awareness and perhaps making healthier and wiser choices surrounding these patterns.

 

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Chris Massman is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist. Chris' training includes Family Systems Theory along with numerous other theories. She believes therapy is an art and chooses the theory she feels will most benefit the individual sitting in front of her. Her specialty lies is in the field of Chemical Dependency and Addictions. Chris is currently seeing individuals, couples and families. Chris is a Clinical member of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists as well as the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. Chris has two locations including Tarzana and Agoura Hills, CA.