Common ACOA Traits You Might Have

4.2 min read|834 words|Categories: Addiction & Substance Use, Mental Health|

What we experience growing up can last with us for a lifetime. That’s why those who have grown up with a parent who struggles with a substance use disorder have been categorized into their own group: adult children of alcoholics

What is an ACOA?

If you’ve come across the acronym ACOA, it refers to adult children of alcoholics. This group has formed out of a community of people who have shared experiences of living with an alcoholic and facing difficulties in life that stem from living with someone who abuses alcohol. 

As children, these individuals, like all children, adapt to fit their environment. For children of alcoholic parents, maladaptive behaviors of parents are often imitated. These learned behaviors become ingrained into an individual’s personality over time and tend to result in similar outcomes later in life. These are ACOA personality types, which we will discuss later.

Adult children of alcoholics can be used as both a casual term and in reference to the organization, Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families World Service Organization. This organization seeks to provide resources and connections for individuals who have been raised by someone who drinks in excess. 

Are there ACOA meetings?

ACOA groups meet around the country in face to face groups, over the phone or virtually. These groups generally follow a 12-step program and can be co-ed, for only men or only women, secular or religious and for a specific minority group as well.

Meetings generally include discussion, reading from an agreed upon fellowship text, focusing on the steps outlined by the ACOA organization or listening to a speaker. You can find ACOA meetings by checking out their find a meeting page.

What are common ACOA traits?

Due to maladaptive behaviors in youth that are entrenched throughout life, the following ACOA traits are commonly observed.

1. Self isolation

Growing up around someone who has a problem with managing alcohol consumption can make it difficult to understand what normal life is like. As a child, ACOAs might distance themselves from friends and family and especially from the parent who struggles with substance abuse.

This can lead to issues down the road with interpersonal relationships. It is often confused for an introverted personality. 

2. Fear of authority figures

A parent should serve as a source of structure and authority for his or her child. Sadly, alcohol can take away this assurance from kids, as parents become unreliable, flaky and uninvolved. This affects kids and later on can lead to a fear or distrust of authority figures like teachers, coaches, bosses and even mentors.

3. Constantly seeking approval

One of the most common ACOA personality types is the people pleaser. While it’s a positive thing to seek kind social reciprocity, sacrificing your identity in the process is par for the course. ACOAs often look for the affirmation they missed out on in childhood and will change their personality to fit in or be liked.

4. Development of addictive behaviors

Adult children of alcoholics often create their own maladaptive behaviors, following a pattern learned early on. Many ACOAs develop substance use disorders, marry someone who suffers from one or develop another addictive and all-consuming behavior, like becoming a workaholic.

5. Feel little sense of personal agency

ACOA may feel that they are fighting a losing battle from the beginning and view life as a victim. This is a self-defeating mindset and it can result in low motivation and little willingness to rise out of unfavorable circumstances. Failing to seek change can mean maladaptive behaviors will never go away.

6. Attraction to weakness

The behaviors we observe growing up we will later project onto ourselves or the people around us. When we seek weakness constantly, we pathologize it and look for it in our own intimate relationships. Weakness attracts ACOAs and it creates unhealthy patterns of relationships and stalls self reflection.

7. Taking responsibility

This often looks like false humility and occurs when an ACOA takes responsibility for others behaviors. Whether an adult child of an alcoholic is taking the blame for provoking a binge or blaming himself for emotional stress, this habit is not reality-based thinking.

8. Extreme fear of abandonment

Living with an alcoholic will color your emotional reactions for years and years. Healing from past experiences is hard work, but it requires overcoming an extreme fear of abandonment. This behavior can seem like clinginess and ties back into the desire for constant external approval.

Much of overcoming a difficult past of being raised by an alcoholic includes healing from negative self worth. When you can have compassion towards yourself and achieve a perspective of intrinsic value, you’ll be able to have healthy interpersonal relationships and live a meaningful life.

At Pyramid Online Counseling, you can find the support you need as you heal from past experiences. If growing up in a home that was affected by an alcohol use disorder has followed you and caused emotional distress, it’s time to reach out for help and start living your own life.

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