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How to Detect Characteristics of Adult Children of Alcoholics

by Jill Avery-Stoss

Alcoholism affects not only those who are drinking, but their loved ones as well. It can be particularly traumatic for children raised by alcoholics. Seventy-six million Americans have been exposed to alcoholism within their family, according to the "Psychology Today" article, "A Toxic Brew," and approximately 26.8 million of them are children. As adults, it can be challenging for them to separate the past from the present. Without counseling or therapy, these experiences can affect them for years, thus impacting personal relationships. There are some specific characteristics that can typically be found in people still struggling with the exposure to alcoholism during childhood.

Poor Interpersonal Skills

Children of alcoholics generally are not taught appropriate life skills while growing up. As a result, they may not have the ability to adequately manage conflict or solve problems during adulthood, according to Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families, an international 12-step recovery program. Instead, they may lie or be aggressive or manipulative in order to get what they want and need. This often results in unhealthy and unstable relationships with others.

Solemn and Somber Affect

Adult children of alcoholics tend to be very serious. They have often been deprived of carefree childhoods in stable homes. They may have needed to be prepared at all times for an explosive incident, or readily available to care for an incapacitated adult. Because they did not learn to have fun as children, they have trouble doing so as adults. Sometimes when adult children of alcoholics do attempt to have fun, they act on impulse, making spontaneous decisions without considering consequences.

Low Self-Esteem

Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families reports that poor self-esteem is a common characteristic in people who have been exposed to alcoholism. They tend to set unreasonable standards for themselves and perceive the inability to meet them as a testament to their low value as humans. There is excessive self-judgment and an incredible need to receive validation. Some may jeopardize their own well-being in order to please others. Furthermore, self-esteem may be so poor that if someone seems to genuinely care for an adult child of an alcoholic, he may question the integrity of said person.

Managing Responsibility and Control

Problems balancing responsibilities and control are common in adult children of alcoholics. As children, some were forced to be responsible because their parents were unable to do so. Some took on responsibilities to seek approval from their parents, while others abandoned responsibilities because they found they weren't able to please their parents no matter how much they tried. These habits can extend into adulthood if they are not taught otherwise. Additionally, children of alcoholics have no control over their chaotic and dysfunctional homes. This circumstance manifests itself in a great need for control during adulthood, as well as a sense of panic whenever said control is threatened.

About the Author

Jill Avery-Stoss is a graduate of Penn State University and a writer and editor based in northeast Pennsylvania. Having spent more than a decade working with victims of sexual and domestic violence, she specializes in writing about women's issues, with emphasis on families and relationships.

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