Most co-dependents are children of alcoholics, but not all come from alcoholic families. Some may have grown up in dysfunctional families who had other problems, such as poverty or a mental or physical illness. Adult Children of Alcoholics grow up, physically — but emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually, many still function on a developmental level that is appropriate for a young child.
ACoA’s have never learned a “normal” way of thinking, feeling, or reacting. Their parents never grew up to be responsible, integrated adults. Consequently, ACoA’s have never had appropriate role models to emulate. Frequently, childhood trauma has compromised their adult relationships, career trajectories, and marriages.
For example, because they have never seen a functional parental partnership in action, they tend to have poor parenting skills, and often the cycle of alcoholism continues from generation to generation unless it is broken by an intervention.
Characteristics of Alcoholic Families
- Low levels of cohesion
- Lack of the expression of love and caring for each other
- Poor communication
- High degree of conflict
- Inconsistent parenting
- Lack of routine, such as meal and bed times
Adult children of alcoholics grow up physically – but emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually, many still function on a developmental level that is appropriate for a young child.
- Lack of traditions and rituals, such as celebrating Easter or 4th of July
- Chaotic family systems with loose boundaries between family members, often with role reversals such as a child parenting the alcoholic parent
- Rigid boundaries between the family and the community to hide the alcoholism and maintain a façade of normalcy
Young Children of Alcoholics
Young children have a tendency to blame themselves and feel guilty for their parents drinking. They worry about their parents, fearing that they might get sick or injured and get anxious when their parents fight. They may perpetuate the lie that their family life is normal and are ashamed of their parents, thus avoiding having friends play at their homes. Because of the many promises that are broken by inconsistent parenting, they do not trust other people. Other characteristics may include the following:
- Failure in school or truancy and poor high school gradation rates
- Lack of friends and withdrawal from classmates
- Difficulty having fun
- Judging one’s self mercilessly, resulting in poor self esteem
- Delinquent behavior, such as stealing or violence
- Frequent physical complaints, such as headaches or stomachaches
- Abuse of drugs or alcohol
- Anger and aggression toward other children
- Impulsivity, risky behaviors, and a lack of self- discipline
- Mistrusting adults and authority figures
- Being super responsible or very irresponsible
- Depression, suicidal thoughts, or attempts
If you identify with this article in any way, please reach out for help. Support and guidance is available and no one needs to suffer in silence anymore.