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Adult Children of Alcoholics: Qualities and Traits

There are several qualities and traits that adult children of alcoholics tend to share. This is primarily due to the similar, dysfunctional home environments that living with an alcoholic parent often creates. Additionally, Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a chronic brain disease. It has long been thought that alcohol addiction is hereditary. Research has linked it to specific genes.

These problematic environments have prompted many scientists, researchers, and psychologists to compile lists of traits and shared qualities that adult children of alcoholics tend to have.

13 Traits of Adult Children of Alcoholics (Dr. Jan)

One of the most cited works on the topic comes from Dr. Janet G. Woititz, where she lists 13 traits that are exceedingly common in adult children of alcoholics. These traits, in order, are:

  1. Adult children of alcoholics guess at what normal behavior is.
  2. Adult children of alcoholics have difficulty following a project through from beginning to end.
  3. Adult children of alcoholics lie when it would be just as easy to tell the truth.
  4. Adult children of alcoholics judge themselves without mercy.
  5. Adult children of alcoholics have difficulty having fun.
  6. Adult children of alcoholics take themselves very seriously.
  7. Adult children of alcoholics have difficulty with intimate relationships.
  8. Adult children of alcoholics overreact to changes over which they have no control.
  9. Adult children of alcoholics constantly seek approval and affirmation.
  10. Adult children of alcoholics usually feel that they are different from other people.
  11. Adult children of alcoholics are super responsible or super irresponsible.
  12. Adult children of alcoholics are extremely loyal, even in the face of evidence that the loyalty is undeserved.

13. Adult children of alcoholics 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.


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What is an “Adult Child” (Tony’s Laundry List)?

In addition to the 13 traits mentioned above, a “Laundry List” was published by Adult Children of Alcoholics co-founder Tony A. in 1978. This list covers several more characteristics that these adult children have in common due to being brought up in a dysfunctional or alcoholic home. 

The full “Laundry List” includes these characteristics:

  • Feeling isolated and afraid of people and authority figures
  • Constantly seeking approval
  • Easily frightened by angry people and any personal criticism
  • Becoming alcoholics, marrying them or both, or finding another compulsive personality such as a workaholic to fulfill sick abandonment needs
  • Living life from the viewpoint of victims and being attracted by that weakness in friendships and relationships
  • An overdeveloped sense of responsibility, making it easier to be concerned with others, which enables adult children of alcoholics not to look too closely at their own faults
  • Guilt feelings when standing up for themselves instead of giving in to others
  • Addiction to excitement
  • Confusion between love and pity and a tendency to “love” people they can “pity” and “rescue”
  • Stuffed feelings from traumatic childhoods and a lost ability to feel or express feelings because it hurts so much
  • Harsh self-judgment and a very low sense of self-esteem
  • Dependent personalities terrified of abandonment; will do nearly anything to hold on to a relationship to avoid painful abandonment feelings, which were received from living with sick people who were never there emotionally
  • Alcoholism is a family disease, making adult children of alcoholics become para-alcoholics, which causes suffering from alcohol without needing to drink it
  • Para-alcoholics are reactors rather than actors

There is also a second laundry list and a “flip side” to each set of characteristics, which cover many of the same principles of abandonment and fear instilled during childhood.

Adult Children of Alcoholics® World Service Organization (ACoAs)

The Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization is focused on helping adults deal with current issues that were caused by growing up in an alcoholic home environment or any other form of dysfunctional family. Information about meetings, support groups, and other resources can be found on the organization’s homepage.

ACA Meetings, Support Groups & Relationships

There are several types of ACA Meetings, support groups, and relationships, and each of them can be arranged in-person, online, or by phone. 

Meeting types include:

  • Open (available to anyone)
  • Closed (only available to ACA members)
  • Men-Only
  • Women-Only
  • Young Adult (18-26 years)
  • ACA Teens (12-18 years)
  • LGBT+ (sometimes includes allies or other groups)
  • Beginners (only new members or people who are new to ACA meetings)

There are also five main areas of focus that each meeting may incorporate:

  1. Open Discussion
  2. Fellowship Text (using topics from fellowship texts to open sharing time)
  3. Book Study (reading and sharing fellowship texts)
  4. Speaker (meeting is led by a speaker, with or without sharing by attendees) 
  5. Workshop (focused discussion around a particular topic)

ACA Newcomers 

ACA newcomers are welcomed into a 12-step support group to address the specific behaviors and patterns developed as a child in an alcoholic family environment. The ultimate goal is to identify what is positive and healthy to help reconstruct adult lives.

ACA is not intended to replace substance use treatment programs. Instead, it is one of the only dedicated programs that addresses recovery from the effects of growing up around alcoholism and family dysfunction as an adult. 

Newcomers, as well as all members, have the right not to share anything that does not feel comfortable. Anonymity is respected, and everything within meetings is treated confidentially.


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Al-Anon Family Groups

Al-Anon Family Groups is a worldwide fellowship offering recovery programs for families and friends of alcoholics. It consists of mutual support programs with peers who share their experience related to dealing with a family member or close friend suffering from alcoholism.

Al-Anon meetings can be held in-person, online, or over the phone. Online meetings can be held in numerous forms, including email, Skype, WhatsApp, Zoom, or even social media sites or other instant messaging platforms. This improves accessibility and ensures everyone is able to participate in meetings regardless of what forms of technology they have available. 

Since Al-Anon meetings are mutual support groups, each person present is considered equal. Nobody is expected to give advice or direction to others. 

Every meeting is different, non-religious, and anonymous. Members and participants are given the opportunity to attend multiple meetings before settling in and growing at their own pace. If you have an alcohol use disorder and a mental health problem, it is essential to seek help for both conditions. 


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Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization. The Problem. ACoA. https://adultchildren.org/literature/problem/.

Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization. Welcome to ACA. ACoA. https://adultchildren.org/newcomer/.

Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization. Information for Meeting and Groups. ACoA. https://adultchildren.org/meeting-group/.

Nancie Palmer, Resilience in Adult Children of Alcoholics:A Nonpathological Approach to Social Work Practice, Health & Social Work, Volume 22, Issue 3, August 1997, Pages 201–209, https://doi.org/10.1093/hsw/22.3.201 https://academic.oup.com/hsw/article-abstract/22/3/201/593640

S H Tweed and C D Ryff, "Adult children of alcoholics: profiles of wellness amidst distress." Journal of Studies on Alcohol 1991 52:2, 133-141 https://www.jsad.com/doi/abs/10.15288/jsa.1991.52.133

Harter, S L. “Psychosocial Adjustment of Adult Children of Alcoholics: a Review of the Recent Empirical Literature.” Clinical Psychology Review, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Apr. 2000, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10779897.

Jill N. Kearns-Bodkin and Kenneth E. Leonard, "Relationship Functioning Among Adult Children of Alcoholics," Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs 2008 69:6, 941-950, https://www.jsad.com/doi/abs/10.15288/jsad.2008.69.941


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