Many children of alcoholics develop similar characteristics and personality traits. In her 1983 landmark book, “Adult Children of Alcoholics,” the late Janet G. Woititz, Ed.D, outlined 13 of them.
- Guess at what normal behavior is
- Have difficulty following a project through from beginning to end
- Lie when it would be just as easy to tell the truth
- Judge themselves without mercy
- Have difficulty having fun
- Take themselves very seriously
- Have difficulty with intimate relationships
- Overreact to changes over which they have no control
- Constantly seek approval and affirmation
- Feel that they’re different from other people
- Are super responsible or super irresponsible
- Are extremely loyal, even in the face of evidence that the loyalty is undeserved
- Are impulsive—They tend to lock themselves into a course of action without giving serious consideration to alternative behaviors or possible consequences. This impulsively leads to confusion, self-loathing, and loss of control over their environment. In addition, they spend an excessive amount of energy cleaning up the mess.
Of course, if you’re a child of an alcoholic, that doesn’t mean that everything on this list will apply to you. But it’s likely that at least some of it will.
Before Dr. Jan’s book was published, an adult child of an alcoholic, Tony A., published in 1978 what he called “The Laundry List,” another list of characteristics that can seem very familiar to those who grew up in dysfunctional homes.
Tony’s list has been adopted as part of the Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization’s official literature and is a basis for the article, “The Problem,” published on the group’s website. Here are some of the characteristics.
- Become isolated
- Fear people and authority figures
- Become approval seekers
- Be frightened of angry people
- Be terrified of personal criticism
- Become alcoholics, marry them, or both
- View life as a victim
- Have an overwhelming sense of responsibility
- Be concerned more with others than themselves
- Feel guilty when they stand up for themselves
- Become addicted to excitement
- Confuse love and pity
- “Love” people who need rescuing
- Stuff their feelings
- Lose the ability to feel
- Have low self-esteem
- Judge themselves harshly
- Become terrified of abandonment
- Do anything to hold on to a relationship
- Become “para-alcoholics,” people who take on the characteristics of the disease without drinking
- Become reactors instead of actors
ACoAs and Relationships
Many adult children of alcoholics lose themselves in their relationship with others, sometimes finding themselves attracted to alcoholics or other compulsive personalities, such as workaholics, who are emotionally unavailable.1
If you identify with the characteristics outlined in either Dr. Woititz’s or Tony A.’s book, you might want to take our Adult Children Screening Quiz to get an idea of how much you may have been affected by growing up as you did.