Adult Children of Alcoholics

Medically Reviewed By Kayla Loibl | Last Edited:  November 26 ,
| 4 Sources

Adult children of alcoholics often carry baggage from their childhood into their adult years. There are many recognizable characteristics of adult children of alcoholics. If you grew up in a family in which someone had a drinking problem, you may recognize some of these characteristics in yourself.

You may have wondered what caused you to feel and act this way. Well, it is likely due to your upbringing. There is help available, but lets first take a look at some of the characteristics.

Characteristics of Adult Children of Alcoholics

Common characteristics include:

  • Difficulty trusting others.
  • Difficulty expressing feelings.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Unable to cope with criticism.
  • Frightened by angry people.
  • Fear of abandonment.
  • Seeking relationships where you can take care of the other person.
  • Constantly seeking approval of others.
  • Focusing on the needs of others to the extent of neglecting your own needs.
  • Feel guilty standing up for yourself.
  • Viewing yourself as a victim.

Other Things to Know

Grown-up children of alcoholics often grow up to be alcoholics themselves, or they marry alcoholics. If not, they may show other symptoms of an addictive personality;for instance,

  • they may be workaholics. 
  • They may have an addiction to excitement and engage in risk taking behaviors. 
  • They may function best in a “crisis mode.” 
  • They are often co-dependent in relationships. 
  • Relationships are often dysfunctional.

Adult children often behave as they did when they were children - as they had to when they were children. For instance,

  • they don’t express their feelings. 
  • They weren’t allowed to express feelings as children, or were never taught to express feelings. 
  • So they don’t express them as adults, or don’t express them appropriately. We don’t mean to say that they behave childishly. They just don’t behave in a healthy manner.

Adult children may not even realize that their thoughts and behavior are unhealthy, at least not at first. When you grow up in a family where everyone behaves a certain way, you learn to think it is normal.

Then as an adult you begin to realize that others behave differently. Changing these thoughts and behaviors can be very difficult. In the next section, we list some resources for adult children who want some help making changes in their lives.

The characteristics of adult children of alcoholics may show up in adult children of dysfunctional families, regardless of whether or not alcoholism was actually involved.

Families in which there was abuse, in which children were not able to trust their parents to meet their needs, and/or in which children were forced to take on a “caregiver” role can produce the same effect as families in which alcoholism was present.


There are 12-Step self-help groups available for grown-up children of alcoholics. These groups are modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous, and help adult children learn to accept responsibility for their own behavior and take back their lives.

There are two groups you can contact. First of all, there is a group called Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA). You can look them up online, or contact them at 310-534-1815.

Then there is Al-Anon. Al-Anon is a group for family and friends of alcoholics. They have special groups for adult children. To find these groups, you can check your local phone book for Al-Anon, look online, or call 757-563-1600.

Self-help groups may not be enough, and individual counseling may be needed to help some people work through the issues from their childhood.

There are also a number of excellent books and workbooks for adult children. John Bradshaw is a well-known author and speaker on the topic. His books come highly recommended.

Lead Writer/Reviewer : Kayla Loibl

Licensed Medical Health Professional 

I am a Mental Health Counselor who is licensed in both New York (LMHC) and North Carolina (LPC). I have been working in the Mental Health field since 2015. I have worked in a residential setting, an outpatient program and an inpatient addictions program. I began working in Long Island, NY and then in Guelph, Ontario after moving to Canada. Read More

More about adult children of alcoholics on our effects of alcoholism page

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