Characteristics of a Child of an Alcoholic

characteristics of a child of an alcoholic

If you grew up in a home with a parent who abused alcohol, then you may never know what to expect from one day to the next. When one, or both, parents in your household battle heavy drinking, so much of your life can feel as if it’s up in the air. Many adult children of alcoholic parents never grow out of certain things. While they may have physically developed, they may struggle emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually as adults. As a luxury drug rehab in South Florida, we’re aware of how alcoholism can affect the home environment and a child’s development. We’re sharing common characteristics of a child of an alcoholic that may surprise you.


Effects of Alcohol Abuse on Children

Alcoholic parents often don’t realize the negative impact their habits have on their children. Unfortunately, the effects of an alcoholic parent on child development are sometimes severe enough to last a lifetime, making certain aspects of the child’s life more difficult in the long run. Below are just some of the various problems that children of alcoholic parents face because of their parent’s habits.


  • Difficulties in establishing a sense of normalcy: Alcoholism in the household often contributes to dysfunctional family dynamics. Children of alcoholics rarely experience traditional or harmonious family relationships, making it more difficult for them to establish relationships in the future.
  • Trust issues: Alcoholism is a catalyst for denial, lying, secrecy, and even abuse in many forms. For children of alcoholic parents, this way of life contributes to trust issues. Broken promises and secretive behavior in their childhood mark their character and affect the way they develop and maintain relationships in the future. Due to a lack of trust issues and self-esteem, adult children of alcoholics will often struggle with friendships, romantic relationships, and getting close to others.
  • Severe self-judgment: Growing up with an alcoholic parent often leads to low self-esteem and feelings of little self-worth, which can eventually develop into feelings of inadequacy in adulthood. As a result, most children of alcoholics tend to judge themselves harshly or put themselves at a higher standard than others because they feel they have more to overcome or prove. Consequently, they may avoid socializing with others, struggle to make friends, and isolate themselves.


The emotional and psychological scars that kids of alcoholics often develop can last well into adulthood. Oftentimes, these children seek out professional care and support for the lasting effects of their parents’ drinking problems. If you’re battling alcoholism, don’t wait to get help. You’re drinking affects more people than you realize. Seaside Palm Beach offers a luxury alcohol detox program in Florida that helps patients safely withdraw from alcohol and increases their chances of long-lasting sobriety.


Characteristics of Children of Alcoholics

Many children of alcoholic parents develop similar traits and characteristics. Based on her personal experience with alcoholism and its effects on her children, the late Janet G. Woititz, Ed.D outlined 13 characteristics of children of alcoholics in her book, “Adult Children of Alcoholics.” As an author, lecturer, and wife to an alcoholic, Janet discovered these common characteristics after working with adult children of alcoholics and dysfunctional families. She realized these traits were prevalent not only in alcoholic families, but also in those who grew up in families affected by other compulsive behaviors.


Some common compulsive behavior examples include gambling, drug abuse, and overeating. Other forms of family dysfunction, such as parents who were chronically ill or followed strict religious traditions and activities, were also referred to.1


Some common traits of adult children of alcoholics (ACoAs) include:

  • Difficulties completing or following through with projects.
  • Difficulties having fun.
  • Lying, even when it’s easier to tell the truth.
  • Severe self-judgment.
  • Taking themselves very seriously or holding themselves to a high standard.
  • Overreacting to changes they have no control over.
  • Difficulties creating and maintaining intimate relationships.
  • Constantly seeking approval or affirmation from others.
  • Being either super responsible or super irresponsible.
  • Being extremely loyal, even when faced with contradictory evidence.
  • Being impulsive, which can lead to confusion, self-loathing, and loss of control. People in this situation often spend a lot of time cleaning up their messes.


If you’re a child of an alcoholic, not all of these traits may apply to you. However, because the experiences of living with alcoholic parents share certain features, you may recognize a few of the traits on this list in yourself. If you have a drinking problem, get luxury alcohol treatment to prevent any further repercussions.


The Laundry List

Before Janet’s book was published, “The Laundry List—14 Traits of an Adult Child of an Alcoholic” was released by the Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service and attributed to Tony A. in 1978. This list contains additional characteristics of a child of an alcoholic.


According to “The Laundry List,” many adult children of alcoholics can:2

  • Isolate themselves
  • Fear people and authority figures
  • Fear angry people and personal criticism
  • Either become alcoholics, marry them, or both
  • Find another compulsive behavior like compulsive working or binge eating to fulfill feelings of abandonment
  • View life as a victim and be attracted to that weakness in friendships and romantic relationships
  • Extreme sense of responsibility, making it easier to be concerned for others and not look closely at their own faults
  • Feel guilty when they stand up for themselves instead of giving in
  • Lose the ability to express their feelings (denial)
  • Have low self-esteem
  • Be extremely dependent on others and willing to do anything to hold onto relationships to avoid experiencing abandonment
  • Take up characteristics of alcoholism even though they did not struggle with drinking themselves


The effects of alcohol on child development also include the tendency to lose themselves in relationships and find themselves attracted to or in relationships with alcoholics or people with other compulsive personalities, like workaholics. Adult children may also form relationships with others who need their help to the point of neglecting their own needs and desires. This is often done to avoid having to focus on their own feelings and difficulties. Additionally, adult children who had alcoholic parents may also develop the traits of alcoholism even if they never had a drinking problem. Some of these traits include denial, poor coping skills, difficulties problem solving, and dysfunctional relationships.


If you or a loved one is displaying signs of alcoholism, now is the time to get help. Substance use disorders are chronic diseases that can take over your life and hurt the people you care about. If you want to be sober, call our luxury drug rehab in South Florida today to learn how our luxury residential treatment center can help.



  1. Woititz, J. G. – Adult Children of Alcoholics: Expanded Edition
  2. Adult Children – The Laundry List

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