Posted by: RealisticRecovery | May 6, 2009

Characteristics of Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA’s)

another great post found over at

Characteristics of Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA’s)

Fear of losing control.
ACOA’s maintain control of their feelings, their behavior, and try to control the feelings and behavior of others.  They do not do this to hurt either themselves or others, but because they are afraid.  They fear that their lives will get worse if they relinquish control, and they get very anxious when they cannot control a situation.

Fear of feelings.
ACOA’s have buried their feelings (especially anger and sadness) since childhood and cannot feel or express emotions easily.  Eventually they fear all intense feelings, even a good feeling such as joy.

Fear of conflict.
ACOA’s are frightened by people in authority, angry people, and personal criticism, so that they often mistake common assertiveness on the part of others for anger.  As a result of this fear ACOA’s are constantly seeking approval, and they lose their identities in the process.  They often find themselves in a self-imposed state of isolation.

An over developed sense of responsibility.
ACOA’s are hypersensitive to the needs of others.  Their self-esteem comes from others’ opinions of them, and thus they have a compulsive need to be perfect.

Feelings of guilt when they stand up for themselves instead of demurring to others.
ACOA’s sacrifice their own needs in an effort to be “responsible”, and therefore avoid guilt.

An inability to relax, let go, and have fun.
Trying to have fun is stressful for ACOA’s, especially when others are watching.  The child inside is terrified, and in an effort to appear perfect, exercises such strict control that spontaneity suffers.

Harsh, even fierce, self-criticism.
ACOA’s are burdened with a very low sense of self-respect, no matter how competent they may be.

Whenever ACOA’s feel threatened, they tend to deny that which provoked their fears.

Difficulties with intimate relationships.
Intimacy gives ACOA’s the feeling of losing control, and requires self-love and the ability to express one’s needs.  As a result, ACOA’s frequently have difficulty with their sexuality, and they repeat relationship patterns.

They see themselves as victims.
ACOA’s may be either aggressive or passive victims, and they are often attracted to others like them in their friendship, love, and career relationships.

Compulsive behavior.
ACOA’s may work or eat compulsively, become addicted to a relationship, or behave compulsively in other ways.  Tragically, ACOA’s may drink compulsively, and become alcoholics themselves.

A tendency to be more comfortable with chaos than with peace.
ACOA’s become addicted to excitement and drama, which can give them their fix of adrenaline and the feeling of power which accompanies it.

The tendency to confuse love with pity.
As a result, ACOA’s often love people they can rescue.

Fear of abandonment.
ACOA’s will do anything to preserve a relationship, rather than face the pain of abandonment.

The tendency, when under pressure, to see everything and everyone in extremes.

Physical illness.
ACOA’s are very susceptible to stress-related illnesses.

Suffering from a backlog of grief.
Losses experienced during childhood were often never grieved for, since the alcoholic family does not tolerate such intensely uncomfortable feelings.  Current losses cannot be felt without calling up these past feelings.  As a result, ACOA’s are frequently depressed.

A tendency to react rather than to act.
ACOA’s remain hypervigilant, constantly scanning the environment for potential catastrophies.

An ability to survive.
If you are listening to this list, you are a survivor.



  1. I like your web site. Being an ACOA I of course think there’s a salesman at the other end of this response. Or a wacko.
    However, I have to trust that you are a very normal person, doing a very extraordinary nice thing aka this site.
    Thank you,

    • Hey Bonnie, I’m glad so many ACoA’s are finding this site.
      This information really needs to be mainstream.
      There’s no salesman here, but lots of free useful information for those who are ready to receive it.
      I am dysfunctional, I come from a dysfunctional family, and I have suffered greatly from addictions, but believe it not, I am no “wacko”. haha
      Just a good person trying to get better.

      Thanks again for visiting and commenting.
      Take some time to browse the rest of the site, and feel free to pass on any useful posts to those you think could benefit from the information.


  2. ResoPulse: i’m dying from all the symptoms of this insidious tragedy. i have held myself back from every good thing that came my way, most of the success oriented opportunities i walked away from or flatly refused because i was sure i didn’t deserve it, or i was ultimately unworthy of the special position i was offered. mind you i have worked very hard to get where i was, then my dream came true, and i quashed it. this has happened over and over again, and now i am in self imposed isolation at 54, and think of killing myself everyday because the barrage of obtrusive thoughts that are angry at the sex abuse i suffered, and the parent i most identified with that drank himself to death. when he died i was berated by the doctor for being a lousy son to my mom. my sister didn’t show up for the death event. i was there, and tried to defend my dying dad against the surgeons who pronounced him terminal, they unloaded on me and insult to grieving loss and injury was set in my now post traumatic stress oriented brain. I flunked out of school and rejected the gifts that were given to me. i have been a great artist and squandered it, a great musician and squandered it, a great source of love and now hate myself. this pattern has been repeating itself over and over again. I have a hard time being around happy people. i love my dog. I am afraid of the future.

    • Been there. Don’t know where you live but getting to Al-Anon and/or ACOA meetings can save your life. I took that path and it helped me feel safe enough to get therapy for childhood sexual abuse. Not home yet but life is much, much better. Hope you can believe, It’s not your fault.
      In recovery,

  3. Good Site I came across, Since my illness in December 2012 which lasted a month and I believe it was a stress related illness causing dizziness, heaviness in head feeling as well as feeling sick. This illness lead to series of self reflections which were not easy and reflected on something that lead me to hearing about ACOA due to amount of questioning I do. I do have an alcoholic biological mother who neglected me (I was before 2 during this time) and brother as child. I have not seen her since I was 13 years old, biological brother has been in prison many times as well.

    I have been told by many past spiritualist mediums that I had emotional issues as a child. Learning about a Childhood neglect was caused by a spiritualist medium asking me if I was abandoned. Once I confirmed it off my foster parent I was able to tell the medium but I did not really think much of it.

    I also learned that ACOAs tend to get involved in to religious cults. I have been in a couple as well. I am also a survior of a brain tumour which I had surgically removed at 26 years old and I am 34 at the moment.

    At work I am very strict and quite zero tolerant and wont put up with a lot of nonsence. If I am religious I can be quite authotarian in some ways which may go with black and white thinking which I noticed.

    I gone to reading Janet’s Book

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