What is an ACOA?

What is an ACOA?
ACOA stands for “Adult Children of Alcoholics” and is also the name of an organization that is worldwide. I am in no way affiliated with said organization but I am the grown child of a dysfunctional family with the end result being that alcoholism has changed my life forever. For the vast majority of people (dare I say all), growing up in a family with an alcoholic can be extremely difficult and have effects that echo for the rest of one’s life. Having such effects is a normal reaction to a dysfunctional childhood but it is important to remember that only we can change how we react, perceive, and ultimately deal with these often painful and difficult challenges.

My parents drank sometimes when I was a kid. Does that mean I am an ACOA?
No. Just because your parents drank doesn’t automatically make you an ACOA. It should be noted that there is a huge difference between having a glass of wine with dinner or getting a bit buzzed during a football game and being an alcoholic. Alcoholics cannot control their drinking and often deny that they have a problem at all. As a result, many ACOAs tend to deny that they have any ill-effects from their childhoods. ACOAs typically suffered any or all of the following abuses as children:

  • physical abuse
  • verbal abuse
  • emotional neglect
  • sexual abuse
  • psychological abuse (often gaslighting and making a person question his or her own sanity)

What are the characteristics of adult children of alcoholics?
There are several “laundry lists” of traits found in ACOAs, some of which I will go into in future blog posts. I will say that you should take everything with a grain of salt because everyone is different and no two experiences are going to be exactly the same. That being said, there tend to be some commonalities in ACOAs on the whole that are present, including:

  • a desire to avoid conflict
  • a fear of emotions and feelings as well as a fear of expression of these feelings
  • difficulties with intimacy and/or close personal relationships with family, friends, and significant others
  • a need for approval to the point where they constantly seek affirmation
  • depression, anxiety, or other mental illness that spans into adulthood
  • a tendency to be extremely loyal even in situations where loyalty is not warranted
  • guessing at what “normal” is
  • overreacting to situations that are not within their control

A quick Google search can give you tons and tons of other characteristics that ACOAs tend to exhibit. From my additional research, one of the most common ways that people discover that they have the traits of an ACOA is that they feel down, depressed, worthless, or sad when there is “nothing wrong” in their lives. They might suffer panic attacks when memories are drudged up from their childhood years and even decades later. Here is another resource that can help you to determine if you might be an ACOA.

What should I do if I am an ACOA?
The most important thing you can do is to get help when you know you are an ACOA, or even if you speculate that you are. You will need help in working through such deep-seeded issues. I know from personal experience that asking for help is difficult as an ACOA, but it is your first step on the road to a brighter future and a happier you. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are because there is always hope.