Understanding the Struggles of Adult Children of Alcoholics

Last Updated: August 7, 2019

a boy and his alcoholic father

To think that an individual’s drinking problem results in suffering for themselves only is a mistake. There is plenty of research that shows the extension of damage from alcoholism onto the children of dependent parents. These negative effects can be in the form of genetic as well as emotional problems. Adult children of alcoholics are more likely to become dependent and will start using alcohol during or before they become teenagers. There are many other characteristics of adult children of alcoholics that need to be identified. Fortunately, however, there are many organizations providing treatment to youngsters suffering from alcohol dependence.

Dangers of Drinking Parents: Statistical Data

According to the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, every year almost 40,000 newborns have FAS or suffer from Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). Eight in 1000 babies are born with FASD all across the globe. These staggering statistics reflect the need for educating pregnant women about the dangers of drinking.
Moreover, it is important to convey to them the seriousness of symptoms of children of alcoholics. Many health experts now suggest that there is no safe quantity or time for alcohol during pregnancy. Mothers that consume alcohol even in subtle amounts risk losing their child to miscarriage, prematurity, or stillbirth.

  • According to the CDC, every 1 in 10 pregnant women has reported using alcohol.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) has deemed it essential for every country to raise awareness about the dangers of FASD.
  • According to the WHO, every 1 in 67 alcohol-consuming women would deliver a child suffering from FAS.

By looking at these statistics, it is evident that an alcoholic woman should seek treatment for her addiction before planning to have a baby. Moreover, there is an urgent need for a well planned, children of alcoholics screening test so that proper treatment can be given.

The Home Environment: What It Is Like Living with Alcoholic Parents

While every child’s experience will vary depending on their unique condition, there are some common children of alcoholics’ symptoms. Due to the lack of parenting skills exercised by the alcoholic parents, there is no management around the house. Of course, there are many different types of alcoholics, but all the alcoholic parents reflect a lack of ability to give their children a normal childhood. Even type 1 alcoholic, which is relatively less prone to alcohol-seeking behavior and aggression, can do serious harm to their children. The children do not have any role models growing up which either. This presents a problem that reflects in the children of alcoholics’ roles.

Both of these factors combine to give rise to a lack of discipline amongst the kids. A typical home environment with an alcoholic parent(s) tends to be extremely chaotic. Children frequently fear the unpredictable mood swings of the alcoholic parent(s). This gives rise to a sense of tension and pressure around the house.

Financial issues are also common amongst families with at least one alcoholic parent. Adolescents do not feel like they can communicate with their parents and end up having emotional problems. They often feel being responsible for their parents’ drinking problem. This feeling causes them to feel depressed and under constant guilt. One child might have to take up the responsibility of carrying out the chores around the house if both the parents are alcoholics. That is why one of the personality traits of children of alcoholics tends to be being a workaholic.

scared daughter of alcoholic holsing a teddy bear

Health Issues Connected with Parental Alcoholism

Women that suffer from alcoholism during pregnancy, inadvertently damage their unborn child’s health. Alcohol enters the bloodstream and passes onto the baby through the placenta. As a result, the baby’s central nervous system, heart, teeth, and the brain are affected. If the drinking continues, it delays the growth process of the baby. In the first three months of pregnancy, an alcoholic woman increases the chances of a miscarriage. Infants of alcohol-dependent pregnant women carry the risk of suffering from FAS. This can result in facial abnormalities, delayed growth, and behavior problems.

It is because of these factors that experts recommend eliminating alcohol intake while trying to conceive. No amount of alcohol is safe for the health of the unborn child. Therefore, seeking alcoholism treatment before conceiving is a sure way to give birth to a healthy baby.

Characteristics and Personality Traits of Adult Children of Alcoholics

Due to the intense pressure, they feel during their childhood, adult children of alcoholics’ traits reflect major issues. The guilt that they feel because of their parents’ alcoholism tends to make them have low self-esteem. Many of the adult children suffer from depression and/or anxiety and are unable to form a healthy emotional relationship. They can also turn out to be people, pleasers since they have spent most of their life seeking approval from their parents.

It is no surprise to see adult children of alcoholics becoming dependent on alcohol themselves. One of the major causes of alcohol addiction is having one or both alcoholic parents. One can better explain that it occurs due to the genetic effect of alcoholism that they inherit and due to the ill effects of spending childhood with such a parent.

Also, because they have lived with a parent(s) that did not contribute much around the house, they readily accept abusive relationships. They spend most of their lives being in dysfunctional relationships as they are unable to identify a normal relationship. Such individuals require extensive treatment and recovery process that can help them regain their self-worth. The adolescents that take up the responsibility of managing the household chores end up becoming workaholics and/or have obsessive-compulsive traits.

The Laundry List

Tony Allen started the chain of ACA meetings back in 1977. He also compiled a list of 14 characteristics that he felt kids of alcoholics share. This list of characteristics is “The Laundry List” and is more commonly referred to as adult children of alcoholics’ laundry list. In essence, it talks about the following traits:

  1. Becoming isolated and fearing authority figures.
  2. Seeking approval from everyone and having no identity of his or her own.
  3. Fear of aggression from people and inability to handle criticism.
  4. Either become a workaholic or alcoholic and find a spouse that suffers from alcohol abuse
  5. Seeing themselves as victims and getting attracted to the same in friendships and love
  6. Focusing on others rather than our own needs and faults. An extreme sense of responsibility
  7. Feeling of guilt when speaking up for themselves and for not agreeing to others
  8. Addiction to the excitement
  9. Fall in love with people they feel sorry for. This happens because of the confusion between love and pity.
  10. Feeling of denial because of compounding intense emotions during childhood. Inability to talk about those emotions because of the feeling of getting overwhelmed.
  11. A low level of self-esteem and self-worth. Having an extremely unrealistic and harsh judgment for themselves.
  12. Constant fear of abandonment and holding onto abusive relationships only to avoid feeling those emotions.
  13. Becoming para-alcoholics even if they have not indulged in alcoholism themselves.
  14. Waiting for a direction that will help them seek approval of others.

The list mentioned above is useful for explaining many of the children of alcoholics’ personality traits.

teenage girl holding a beer and a teddy bear on the dirty street

Common Struggles a Child of Alcoholic Parents Faces

One of the most common struggles that evolve due to the traits of children of alcoholics is their inability to become good parents. This happens because they did not have any role models in their childhood and hence do not know how to be one. Other than that, some of the most commonly found struggles include:

Substance Abuse

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, grown children of alcoholics are four times more likely to become alcoholics themselves. This is not only because of the genetic factors but also the kind of environment in which their upbringing took place. Some infants develop substance abuse problems while still in school since they are unable to deal with their domestic situation. They perceive alcoholism or any other form of abuse to be an escape from reality.

Moreover, because of their hereditary conditions, health professionals warn that children of alcoholics should exercise greater caution. According to evidence collected from numerous researches, these children become addicted to alcohol, cocaine, heroin, or marijuana. Another belief is that such children have a high alcohol tolerance because of their genetic predisposition. Therefore, adult children alcoholics’ habits are generally identifiable by looking at their childhood.

Mental Illnesses

Children of alcoholics also commonly suffer from anxiety and/or depression. Anxiety is by far the most common mental illness seen in such kids. The emotional trauma and sense of unpredictability that these individuals face during childhood affect their mental health. They are more likely to have a fear of problems that do not exist. Some of the individuals also suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder if they suffered significant abuse.

Co-dependent Relationships

Children of alcoholics try to seek the approval of their parents constantly. This translates into low self-worth, which stays with them even as adults. Children of alcoholics and relationships is a frequent topic in discussions. Daughters of alcoholic parents are more likely to marry alcoholic spouses. Children of alcoholics, in general, tend to form co-dependent relationships wherein, their happiness depends on their partner’s feelings. Moreover, since they have spent their childhood suppressing their own needs and feelings, they tend to stay in abusive relationships for a long time.

Treatment and Help for Adult Children of Alcoholics

Even though the childhood trauma of living with an alcoholic parent is not easily erasable, the feeling of entrapment is treatable. The psychological and emotional effects can be improved significantly with the help of professional help. The personality characteristics of children of alcoholics can sometimes reflect a need for immediate help. If the children suffer from alcohol addiction, they can seek treatment options such as the rehab for alcoholics and others.

Meetings & Support Groups

There are many children of alcoholics meetings arranged by different organizations that focus on recovery through support and talking. These 12-step meetings focus on the laundry list and incorporate Tony Allen’s 12 Steps of Recovery List. Through this method, adult children of alcoholics’ dysfunctional families can address all the important and common problems, and the process of healing begins.


A licensed mental health professional can give such children the counseling they need through alcohol addiction therapy. During these sessions, the professional talks to the patient about the root cause of the personality traits and characteristics. By addressing the inherent issues, the medical professional can help them recover from their traumatic childhood. Such a professional is well aware of all the children of alcoholics’ symptoms and therefore reaches a diagnosis early on.

Without appropriate treatment, children of alcoholics end up hurting themselves and their future. It is therefore imperative that they seek proper treatment and focus on healing. Adult children of alcoholics’ characteristics can prove to be detrimental. Therefore, a major part of recovery is to recognize the need for change. Many kids go about their lives without acknowledging their faults and suffer for a long time. Therefore, it is important to be aware of all the adult children of alcoholics’ symptoms.



Brian Obinna Obodeze

Brian Obodeze

Content Writer

Brian Obinna Obodeze is a professional health-niche content developer for AlcoRehab.org with six years of experience as a research writer. He is an expert in medical content development, especially in the field of addictions, general health, homeopathic medicine, and pharmaceuticals.

Brian has a bachelor’s degree in Microbiology from the University of Benin and has worked as a Lab Scientist and as a public healthcare officer. His hobbies include physical fitness, reading, and social entrepreneurship.

Medical review by Dr. Gregory Okhifun

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