Children who grew up in an alcoholic home develop similar personality traits and characteristics. Dr. Janet Woititz published her national bestselling book, Adult Children of Alcoholics in 1983. In it she outlined 13 characteristics of adult children of alcoholics but also applied these same characteristics to those who grew up in households where other compulsive behaviours are present such as gambling, drug abuse or overeating. Adult children who experienced chronic illness, strict religious attitudes, foster care and other dysfunctions, also identified with the characteristics, Woititz says.
Characteristics and Personality Traits of an Adult Child of an Alcoholic:
Fear of losing control.
Adult children of alcoholics maintain control over their behaviour and feelings. They also try to control the behaviour and feelings of others. They do this because they are afraid not because they want to hurt themselves or others. They fear that if they relinquish control their lives will get worse, and they can become very anxious when they are not able to control a situation.
Fear of Emotions or Feelings
Adult children of alcoholics tend to bury their feelings (particularly anger and sadness) since childhood and are not able to feel or express emotions easily. Ultimately they fear all powerful emotions and even fear positive emotions like fun and joy.
Adult children of alcoholics have a fear of people who are in authority, people who are angry, and do not take personal criticism very well. Often they misinterpret assertiveness for anger. Therefore, they are constantly seeking approval of others whilst losing their identities in the process. Frequently they isolate themselves.
A high burden of responsibility and constant approval seeking
Adult children of alcoholics are oversensitive to the needs of others. Their self-esteem comes from others’ judgments of them, thus having the compulsive need to be perfectionists and be accepted.
An inability to relax and have fun.
Adult children of alcoholics cannot have fun because it is stressful, especially when others are watching. The child inside is frightened, and in an effort to appear perfect, exercises strict self-control.
Harsh self-criticism and low self esteem
Adult children of alcoholics are weighed down with a very low sense of self-esteem and respect, no matter how competent they may be.
Whenever adult children of alcoholics feel threatened, they tend to deny that which provoke their fears.
Difficulties with intimacy
Adult children of alcoholics fear intimacy because it makes them feel that they lost control. They have difficulties expressing their needs and consequently have problems with their sexuality, and repeat relationship patterns.
Develop a victim mentality
Adult children of alcoholics may either be passive or aggressive victims, and are often attracted to others like them whether in friendships, career and love relationships.
Adopting compulsive behaviour
Adult children of alcoholics may eat compulsively or become workaholics. They may become addicted and co-dependent in a relationship, or behave compulsively in other ways. Sadly, they may abuse alcohol and become alcoholics like their parent(s).
More comfortable living in chaos or drama than in peace
Adult children of alcoholics become addicted to chaos and drama, which gives them their adrenaline fix and feelings of power and control.
The tendency to confuse love with pity.
Adult children of alcoholics are often in relationships with people they can rescue.
Adult children of alcoholics will do anything to save a relationship, rather than face the pain of abandonment even if the relationship is unhealthy.
Tendency to see everything and everyone in extremes, when under pressure
Adult children of alcoholics are highly susceptible to stress-related illnesses.
Suffering from an accumulation of grief.
Adult children of alcoholics are frequently depressed. Losses experienced during their childhood were often never grieved for because the alcoholic family doesn’t tolerate intense uncomfortable feelings.
Overreaction to outside changes
Adult children of alcoholics remain hyper vigilant, constantly scanning their surroundings for potential catastrophes.
Adult Children of Alcoholics Attracted to Compulsive Personalities
Many lose themselves in their relationship with others and sometimes
find themselves attracted to alcoholics or other compulsive
personalities – such as workaholics. They are generally attracted to
those who are emotionally unavailable.
Adult children sometimes like to be the “rescuer” and will form relationships with others who need their help, to the extent of neglecting their own needs. What happens is that they place the focus on the needs of someone else whilst not having to examine their own difficulties and shortcomings.
Often, these adult children will acquire the characteristics of alcoholics, even if they never drink themselves. They can be in denial, develop poor coping strategies, have an inability to problem solve and form dysfunctional relationships.
Adult Children of Alcoholics and Help
Many adult children who grew up in a dysfunctional home have been deeply affected by their experiences and often seek counselling and professional treatment to help resolve these issues.
SMART Recovery Family and Friends is a mutual support group that helps those who grew up in such an environment using Cognitive Behavioural and Rational Emotive Therapy.