Adult Children of Alcoholics: ACOA
*Author’s Note - We tend to stray away from stigmatising words such as “addict” or “alcoholic.” However, we’ve included the phrase “alcoholic” in this piece as it is embedded within the name of the organisation and fellowship – Adult Children of Alcoholics. We encourage you to enlist a person-first approach when referring to anyone struggling with a substance use disorder.
If you grew up with a parent or caregiver who struggled with alcoholism, your childhood was turbulent. You had to navigate living in an emotionally chaotic and unsupportive environment. You likely didn’t feel safe emotionally and mentally, and perhaps even physically. As a result, you managed to find your own ways to cope in order to live day-to-day.
Read on to discover how your childhood may have affected what your life looks like right now. Learn more about ACA, and uncover their solution to resolving deeply embedded childhood wounds brought on by addiction or dysfunction in the home.
What are “adult children of alcoholics” or ACoA?
AcoA, or adult children of alcoholics, is exactly what it sounds like. This is a term used to describe anyone who grew up in a home where addiction was present.
If you grew up with a parent or caregiver who struggled with addiction, you may have felt responsible for their use. You may have felt unworthy, as you wondered why you weren’t good enough for your parent to change their behaviours.
You may have constantly been on edge, wondering how your parent would act or react to you. Perhaps you felt a ping of anxiety every time they came home after being out for hours.
Additionally, you may have taught yourself to dissociate, escape internally, or shut down. You may have taught yourself to do whatever they told you to do, so as not to evoke any of their anger.
Conversely, you may have felt your own anger, which you internalised in an effort not to make things worse.
On the flip side, you may have experienced bouts of rage. When this happened, all your repressed emotions found themselves detonating beyond the surface.
Chances are, you weren’t in an environment where you felt safe to explore your emotions or share your emotions. You likely struggled to even allow your emotions to begin with. This not only applies to to those who grew up in an environment with addiction but also to those who grew up in a dysfunctional family setting, where there was conflict, neglect, abuse or where caregivers were overtly controlling.
Fast forward to today.
Now, as an adult, you may be free from the shackles of your childhood in your physical environment. However, your inner world may still be fully locked in the past.
You may find yourself engaging in behaviours such as people-pleasing or codependency. Perhaps you struggle with anxiety and difficulty engaging with your emotions. You may even have difficulty feeling present.
You’re constantly trying to fill an inner emptiness with things that make you feel good, even if it’s only temporary.
The way you are now isn’t just “how you are.” The way you think, your emotional processing, and therefore your behaviours and actions, can all stem back to childhood conditioning.
What you went through was trauma, and it deeply impacted all aspects of you.
Why healing from childhood trauma is so important for “adult children of alcoholics”
As you can see, the way you grew up may have impacted you in ways you haven’t even uncovered yet. Childhood trauma can live within us in such an insidious way, and cause a ripple effect within our lives.
When you experience childhood trauma, it impacts you and everyone around you. It seeps into how you engage and interact with other people, and how you understand and navigate through relationships.
Experiencing childhood trauma affects the way you view the world around you.
When you’ve experienced childhood trauma, it changes how you view yourself. It impacts what you believe about yourself, and what you believe you’re capable of.
Because of this, healing from childhood trauma is so important. The effects of living through trauma in your childhood can keep you small and living in a self-inflicted box. Even if you find yourself having material success, you may struggle with emotional emptiness. You may have trouble creating deep and meaningful relationships.
Even if you have good relationships with others, you may struggle to feel worthy of living a materially abundant life. You hold yourself back from pursuing the true desires of your heart.
Childhood trauma affects everyone differently based on the nuances of their own unique experiences.
The common thread is that the trauma will keep you from thriving and becoming the fullest, most aligned, joyful version of yourself.
This is why it’s so important to do that tough work and to get vulnerable with yourself. It’s critical to take the steps towards healing.
What is the Adult Children of Alcoholics & Dysfunctional Families (ACA) organisation?
Many family members and loved ones of those struggling with addiction attend Al-Anon meetings to gain support. Here, loved ones learn that they didn’t cause the addiction, they can’t control the addiction, and they can’t cure the addiction. The focus is on their own recovery as they learn to set healthy boundaries and cope with the emotional rollercoaster of having a loved one with addiction.
Al-Anon is a wonderful source of support, wisdom, and guidance for the loved ones of those with addiction. However, it doesn’t dig into exploring the experiences and effects of childhood trauma that many have endured. This is where ACA comes in.
ACA, or Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families, is a spiritual organisation that follows the 12-step model and is geared towards helping those who grew up in dysfunctional homes or had parents with alcohol use disorder. ACA is specifically geared towards the thoughts, feelings, and behaviours that have stemmed from experiencing the trauma in childhood of having a parent or caregiver with an addiction.
The intention of the Adult Children of Alcoholics meetings is to help its members uncover and acknowledge their own issues that may have stemmed from their childhood. Then, they help adult children find a solution, and work towards achieving that solution.
Meetings are designed to foster an atmosphere of safety, mutual respect, nonjudgment, and understanding. The hope is to help adult children find the mental, emotional, and spiritual freedom they deserve as they journey through recovery at their own pace.
Additionally, ACA is not exclusive to those who lived in a home where alcohol or drugs were used. The oganisation also helps those who experienced any form of abuse, neglect, or dysfunctional dynamics within the family.
How do you know if ACA is right for you?
Adult Children of Alcoholics may be incredibly helpful for you if you grew up in a home where addiction was present or if you grew up in a dysfunctional family dynamic.
Even if you can’t directly or overtly see the connection between your experiences then and your current life now, the trauma you endured has likely impacted you in one or more areas of your life.
If you’re feeling stagnant, stuck, or empty no matter what you do, ACA may be for you.
The laundry list
According to Adult Children of Alcoholics, there is a list of 14 traits of the adult child of an alcoholic. This list is referred to as “The Laundry List,” and serves as the foundation for the organisation’s problem statement.
- Became isolated and afraid of people and authority figures.
- We became approval seekers and lost our identity in the process.
- Are frightened by angry people and any personal criticism.
- We either become alcoholics, marry them or both, or find another compulsive personality such as a workaholic to fulfil our sick abandonment needs.
- Live life from the viewpoint of victims and we are attracted by that weakness in our love and friendship relationships.
- Have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility and it is easier for us to be concerned with others rather than ourselves; this enables us not to look too closely at our own faults, etc.
- We get guilty feelings when we stand up for ourselves instead of giving in to others.
- Became addicted to excitement.
- Confuse love and pity and tend to “love” people we can “pity” and “rescue.”
- Have “stuffed” our feelings from our traumatic childhoods and have lost the ability to feel or express our feelings because it hurts so much (Denial).
- We judge ourselves harshly and have a very low sense of self-esteem.
- We are dependent personalities who are terrified of abandonment and will do anything to hold on to a relationship in order not to experience painful abandonment feelings, which we received from living with sick people who were never there emotionally for us.
- Alcoholism is a family disease, and we became para-alcoholics and took on the characteristics of that disease even though we did not pick up the drink.
- Para-alcoholics are reactors rather than actors.
Adult children of alcoholics & dysfunctional families: problem and solution
If you resonate with any of the traits listed above, ACA may be a great way for you to finally get out of your current mental or emotional reality and into a better place. ACA ultimately aims to help those struggling with the above traits by offering what they refer to as “The Solution.”
Before jumping into “The Solution” as offered by Adult Children of Alcoholics, let’s take a look at how they flesh out “The Problem.”
Below are some of the key concepts of “The Problem,” as a result of growing up in a home with addiction or dysfunction, as per Adult Children of Alcoholics:
- People-pleasing behaviours
- Feeling isolated
- Feeling uneasy with other people, primarily authority figures
- A loss of your own identity
- Taking personal criticism as a threat
- Engaging in addictive behaviours
- Dating or marrying someone with addictive behaviours
- Being a workaholic
- Victimising yourself
- Feeling guilt for putting your own needs first (or being unable to put your own needs first)
- Significant issues with abandonment
- Becoming dependent on others emotionally
- Engaging in insecure relationships
- Confusing love with pity, and dating people you try to “rescue”
According to Adult Children of Alcoholics, the healing, or solution, to the above issues is to become your own loving parent. This experience can be found in the relationship between your inner child and your inner parent. Both of these are different parts of you, each embodying distinct feelings and thoughts.
The solution comes together when you, the adult child, learn how to acknowledge and express the pain that your inner child has been holding for a lifetime. Then, you can learn how to provide your inner child with the space to feel those emotions. You learn to offer your inner child a parent’s love, compassion, and acceptance.
As you attend meetings and get more comfortable with others and with yourself, you’ll feel safe to explore the painful memories and hurt that you continue to carry with you. As these burdens rise to the surface, you’ll learn how to nurture your inner child and release the weight you’ve been carrying.
In the programme, you’ll also learn to understand addiction as a disease that affected your caregiver as well as the members of the family and yourself. You’ll make peace with the truth that you cannot change your past, but you can free yourself from its grip and live a full, peaceful, authentic life now.
Access or start an ACOA meeting with Recoverlution
Recoverlution is a platform that provides its members with the opportunity to create personalised support groups so that they can connect with like-minded others. In any recovery, identification, guidance and support are paramount to the healing process.
Author - Thurga
Codependency in addiction recovery