Woititz, J. (1990) Adult children of alcoholics. HCI: Deerfield Beach, FL


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Adult Children of Alcoholics 

ACOAs are adults who were raised in homes with parents or caregivers who were addicted to alcohol or drugs.  As children, life was often confusing, unpredictable, and even frightening as the child was likely cast in a parentified, or caregiving, role s/he was not developmentally equipped to take on.  According to a seminal study by Dr. Janet Woititz (1990), as adults, this population tends to face common challenges, including: 

  • a need to feel in control of one's own feelings and those of others
  • heightened fear of intense emotions, whether positive or negative 
  • going to great lengths to avoid conflict with others, even if to the detriment of one's own needs
  • excessive and irrational guilt
  • constant approval seeking and low self esteem
  • difficulty relaxing and feeling content
  • harsh self criticism 
  • susceptibility to addiction or other compulsive behaviors like overeating, overspending, or promiscuity
  • seeking partners who bring chaos rather than stability to one's life; seeking partners to "rescue"
  • hypervigilance of people and surroundings; a general mistrust of people
  • intense fear of abandonment 
  • increased risk for stress-related physical illnesses

Other groups who identify with these characteristics include children raised in homes with eating disorders, gambling addictions, strict and rigid religiosity, narcissism, depression, and sexual abuse.  

Psychotherapy can help you set healthy boundaries, let go of unnecessary, burdensome guilt, reduce fear of intimacy, and find more peace in relationships with friends, colleagues, and partners.