Behaviors of the adult children of alcoholics

Written by thomas mcnish
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Behaviors of the adult children of alcoholics
The family of an alcoholic suffers, too. (Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images)

ACOA, or adult children of alcoholics, are children who were raised by one or more guardians who suffered from an alcohol addiction. Alcoholism is a disease that affects not only the person who's afflicted, but those around them as well. Adult children of alcoholics often exhibit learnt patterns of behaviour that were acquired in childhood to help them cope but were often carried on into adulthood.

Perfectionist Facade

Adult children of alcoholics are often confused about what's considered "normal" behaviour. Because their beliefs about their home life and the people who raised them may have been discredited, adult children of alcoholics try to hide any appearance of abnormal behaviour. The perfectionist facade may be show itself through possessions like jewellery, clothing or cars. But it can also be seen through obsessive-compulsive behaviour, as well as excessive boasting of accomplishments.


Some adult children of alcoholics may not have a good track record when it comes to following through on projects. This is thought to be linked to adult children of alcoholics' fear of failure or fear of harsh judgment. By not finishing the project, they cannot be criticised for the end result. In these cases, they are using avoidance as a defence mechanism.

Harsh Judgments

Adult children of alcoholics have a tendency to judge themselves too harshly. This is related to their perfectionist behavioural patterns. Because they're afraid that their "abnormal" behaviour will be seen and judged by others, they are immediately on the offensive and judge others first. Many times, they also judge others in the same harsh light that they use to judge themselves.

Controlled Emotions

Many adult children of alcoholics were raised in households where negative emotions were not tolerated. Because of this, they often try to contain their negative emotions. This behaviour is also thought to be related to their extreme lack of control during their childhood, leading them to overcompensate in adulthood. They may also attempt to control the feelings of others, as well as their own.

Compulsive Behaviors

Compulsive behaviours -- such as overeating, becoming dependent in a relationship, overspending or gambling -- can be symptomatic behavioural patterns of adult children of alcoholics. In an attempt to control certain aspects of their life, they may go overboard, leading to a compulsive behaviour. Some end up drinking compulsively, becoming alcoholics themselves.

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