The first time I heard of Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA’s), I rather cynically thought that the treatment center at Hazelden had created a new fad to bring more people into treatment. Oh, was I so wrong! Adult Children of Alcoholics are real people who are hurting emotionally, and who hurt others because, the survival behavior they developed in childhood, has not been acknowledged or treated.

In the mid-sixties, Hazelden treatment center began a “Family Program.” Sharon Wegsneider [Cruze] was working with kids who had one or other parent in treatment. She documented her observations and eventually identified four survival behaviors in the family with dysfunction; The HERO who does “everything right” (or doesn’t do it at all.);The SCAPEGOAT who gets blamed for any and everything that happens; The MASCOT (the class clown) who can turn any situation into humor; and The LOST CHILD who is frequently overlooks, forgotten.

These unconscious behaviors continue into adulthood, into one’s workplace, into relationships, into church etc. Since the home of an alcoholic/addict is anything but “normal” the family adapt modes of behavior in order to survive. These young peoples’ behavior is such that, as adults, they have to learn “what is normal?”

The normalcy accepted by an ACOA is not what is accepted as normal by others. Some of the behavior of ACOA’s is outlined as follows: ACOA’s have difficulty in completing a task. In their family of origin there was so much interruption directly or indirectly, the individual learned to let things go. ACOA’s judge themselves mercilessly. They can’t “fix” the addicted parent and blame themselves for things they did not do. ACOA’s are hard workers, take themselves very seriously to the point one might say the weight of the world rests on them. ACOA’s lie faster than tell the truth. In the family of origin excuses had to be created and creative to pacify the addict, consequently, lying became a family trait. ACOA’s have difficulty having fun as also difficulty with intimate relationships. “Trust” is a major issue in the Family of origin and remains a major issue in relationships. ACOA’s overreact to changes over which they have no control; they also constantly seek approval/affirmation directly or indirectly. ACOA’s are either super responsible or super irresponsible; they also have a sense they are different from others. ACOA’s are extremely loyal, even in the fact of evidence that the loyalty is undeserved. ACOA’s are impulsive; they fail to consider the consequences of their actions and this leads to self-hatred and spending a lot of energy cleaning up their mistakes.

It does not matter what one’s position is in life or their socio-economic status, ACOA’s are behaving the best they can to “survive.” They are unaware of their behavior as having anything to do with their family or origin. Like the alcoholic or addict, an ACOA has to be supported in confronting their unhealthy behavior and seeking help to change it. Once an individual begins to understand their ACOA behavior; why they do what they do; Why they think the way they think, and feel the way they feel ( or deny the feelings), they can, with the support of a therapist and perhaps group therapy they discover they are not alone and can stop the chain of addictive behavior and reverse their negative behavior.

RESOURCES:, National Association for Children of Alcoholics.
The Complete ACoA sourcebook. Dr Janet Geringer Woititz.
Adult Children: The Secrets of Dysfunctional Families. John and Linda Friel.
An Adult Child’s Guide to What’s “Nomal.” John and Linda Friel.
Lifeskills for Adult Children. Janet Woititz and Alan Garner
Recovery: A Guide for Adult Children of Alcoholics. Herbert Gravitz and Julie D. Bowden
Struggle for Intimacy. Janet G. Woititz.
Self-Sabotage Syndrome: Adult Children in the Workplace. Janet G. Woititz