Adult Children of Alcoholics

In the early 1980’s Janet Woititz, Ed.D wrote a book called Adult Children of Alcoholics which for the first time helped multitudes of people understand who they were and how they came to be that way. To understand the role of family and addiction allowed the process of change to begin. For those who grew up in a home with drug addiction, alcoholism or serious gambling problems the following might feel familiar:

Don’t Talk, Don’t Trust, Don’t Feel

This message is deeply embedded in the subconscious and takes a very conscious commitment to change. It is a rule that most ACOA’s live by with no conscious awareness of how they go through daily life. Often they were told “what happens in this house stays in this house”. You see your mom passed out on the couch almost every day when you come home from school, sometimes you have been afraid she was dead but no one talks about it in your house. You just get your little brothers off the bus, make sure they eat something, do the best you can to get them to do homework and kind of make supper (being 10 has it’s limits).

Your mom says she is just tired; forget how she smells and how no one could wake her. Don’t trust what you see or feel, just act like the empty pill and wine bottles are not there and do not trust what your gut is telling you. You feel terrified and angry but just act as if all is well and don’t rock this boat! It is a pattern you perfect through your own marriage to an alcoholic. And of course how do you get through it all, learn to be numb, either drink, drug, read, gamble, watch TV, porno find a way to escape anything but deal with feelings and reality. How easy belief systems are established, how difficult they are to change.

The following is a profile of Adult Children of Alcoholics that Janet Woititz published in her book Adult Children of Alcoholics listing generalizations that recur

Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA’s):

  1. Guess at what normal is
  2. Have difficulty following a project through from beginning to end
  3. Lie when it would be just as easy to tell the truth
  4. Judge themselves without mercy
  5. Have difficulty having fun
  6. Take themselves very seriously
  7. Have difficulty with intimate relationships
  8. Over-react to changes over which they have no control
  9. Constantly seek approval and demand
  10. Usually feel that they are different from other people
  11. Are super responsible or super irresponsible
  12. Are extremely loyal, even in the face of evidence that the loyalty is undeserved.
  13. Self loathing
  14. Are impulsive.

ACOA’s tend to lock themselves into a course of action without giving serious consideration to alternative behaviors or possible consequences. This impulsivity leads to confusion, self-loathing and loss of control over their environment. In addition, they spend an excessive amount of energy cleaning up the mess.

Of course change is possible but it is a process of rewriting deeply embedded belief systems. For some it would mean becoming clean and sober before being able to change anything else. One step at a time, one day at a time you can do things that seem impossible. Imagine living life being comfortable in your intimate relationship, truly connected. Feeling secure in yourself, being able to laugh at yourself and not having to always be perfect. Finding that inner peace is a great reward and worth the effort.

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