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Adult Children Of Alcoholics - May 2009


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“Adult Children of Alcoholics" was presented on May 19, 2009 by MaryGrace Fisher, LLMSW, CAAC; Dawn Farm Huron Street therapist. This program provides an overview of beliefs and behaviors that are common to adult children of alcoholics. This program is part of the Dawn Farm Education Series, a FREE, annual workshop series developed to provide accurate, helpful, hopeful, practical, current information about chemical dependency, recovery, family and related issues. The Education Series is organized by Dawn Farm, a non-profit community of programs providing a continuum of chemical dependency services. For information, please see

Adult Children Of Alcoholics - May 2009

  1. 1. Adult Children of Alcoholics MaryGrace Fisher, LLMSW, CAAC
  2. 2. What is an adult child of an alcoholic [ACOA]? <ul><li>Any person who grew up in a home with one or both parental figures addicted to drugs and/or alcohol. </li></ul>
  3. 3. What are typical characteristics of an alcoholic home? <ul><li>Fear of the unknown, of the alcoholic’s behavior(s), of losing the family system </li></ul><ul><li>Inconsistency with daily activities (i.e. meals, parent(s) being home, sleep schedules, attendance at functions, reliability) </li></ul><ul><li>Family acts differently inside and outside of the home </li></ul><ul><li>All of the family’s focus is on the alcoholic </li></ul><ul><li>Children’s and parent’s roles are confused </li></ul>
  4. 4. The Family Hero <ul><li>Behaviors : Is a high achiever, excels, leads, is very busy, takes on many tasks, almost never says no, responds to adults, is controlling </li></ul><ul><li>Feelings : Anxiety, inadequacy, unworthiness, resentfulness, self-blame, loneliness </li></ul><ul><li>As an Adult : Has an unrealistic sense of control and a need to control, needs approval, feels overly responsible or may act irresponsibly when overwhelmed </li></ul><ul><li>Offers the family a sense of being OK </li></ul>
  5. 5. The Chief Enabler <ul><li>Behaviors : Shelters and shields the substance-abusing family members, makes excuses for and may lie to protect the substance abuser, minimizes negative consequences, blames others for the problems, sometimes sabatoges progress towards recovery </li></ul><ul><li>Feelings : Anger, hurt, guilt, resentment, anxiety, fear, desperation to control everything, helpless, hopeless, exhausted </li></ul><ul><li>Offers the family a sense of stability and protection </li></ul>
  6. 6. The Family Mascot <ul><li>Behaviors : Acts as class clown, seeks attention through humor and acting out, uses humor to keep people at a distance, is seldom serious </li></ul><ul><li>Feelings : Anxiety—measures self-worth by how others see him or her; anger; hurt; loneliness </li></ul><ul><li>As an Adult : Has problems in school and at work, seldom forms intimate relationships, “clowns around” or is the “life of the party,” may develop substance abuse problems </li></ul><ul><li>Offers the family a sense of comic relief from the pain </li></ul>
  7. 7. The Lost Child <ul><li>Behaviors : Is quiet, is a daydreamer, isolates themselves, fantasizes, avoids conflict, is passive </li></ul><ul><li>Feelings : Loneliness, fear, unworthiness, inadequacy, lack of fulfillment </li></ul><ul><li>As an Adult : May have problems with depression and difficulty with interpersonal relationships; may have alcohol or drugs problems due to inability to cope </li></ul><ul><li>Offers the family a sense of relief and success and is no trouble to the family </li></ul>
  8. 8. The Family Scapegoat <ul><li>Behaviors : Rebels, tests limits, breaks rules, usually gets in trouble, acts aggressively and angrily; uses AOD as an outlet and relief from pain; dresses inappropriately </li></ul><ul><li>Feelings : Anger, confusion, resentment, inadequacy, self-blame for family problems, feeling of being “out of control” </li></ul><ul><li>As an Adult : Typically has progressive AOD problems; has many problems throughout childhood, adolescence, and adulthood; may have progressive involvement with the criminal justice system </li></ul><ul><li>Offers the family a sense of purpose and provides </li></ul><ul><li>the family with someone to blame for its problems </li></ul>
  9. 9. Typical Beliefs of an ACOA <ul><li>Don’t talk! Fierce loyalty to the family. </li></ul><ul><li>Don’t trust! I can only rely on myself. </li></ul><ul><li>Don’t feel! There is no room for feelings . </li></ul>
  10. 10. Don’t Talk! <ul><li>What happens in the home and/or with the family stays in the home/family </li></ul><ul><li>Typically never actually stated by the parent(s)…unspoken rule </li></ul><ul><li>Protects the addict and keeps the family structure intact </li></ul><ul><li>Prevents family shame and embarrassment </li></ul><ul><li>Family typically behaves differently inside and outside of the home </li></ul><ul><li>Children notice that their friends’ families </li></ul><ul><li>act differently than theirs </li></ul>
  11. 11. Don’t Trust! <ul><li>Why a lack of trust? Can’t rely on the adults in your life as a child, so how can you rely on others as an adult? </li></ul><ul><li>Don’t trust self and own instincts to be correct </li></ul><ul><li>Don’t trust that others will follow through </li></ul><ul><li>Rarely ask for help…fierce independence </li></ul><ul><li>Fear of authority…loss of control to the authority figure...parents were authority figures </li></ul>
  12. 12. Don’t Feel! <ul><li>There is no time for personal feelings…all of the focus is on the addict and what is happening with them…there is no time for the child(ren) and their feelings so children shut the feelings down/off </li></ul><ul><li>There is an inherent acceptance and learned numbing of feelings because the child learns that the situation will not change so in order to cope, their feelings must be stuffed </li></ul><ul><li>Learn to focus on only having feelings regarding others (i.e. worry about the alcoholic parent, fear for the family, sadness for a sibling) </li></ul><ul><li>If I show feelings and become close with you, you will leave me anyway so it’s safer to never become close to you </li></ul><ul><li>Belief that showing personal feelings creates a burden on the </li></ul><ul><li>person they are being expressed towards or discussed with </li></ul><ul><li>(people pleasing) </li></ul>
  13. 13. The Inner Self <ul><li>Fear of being “found out.” If I get close to you, you will discover how angry and dark I truly am on the inside. </li></ul><ul><li>I’m not going to let you in all of the way because you will leave me anyway. </li></ul><ul><li>At my core, I’m a bad person. </li></ul><ul><li>I’m alone! I cannot trust, talk to others, or give myself permission to have feelings beyond happy and mad. </li></ul><ul><li>People pleasing allows for as little conflict as possible and keeps others at an emotional distance so I need to be happy all of the time. </li></ul>
  14. 14. Three areas ACOA’s struggle: <ul><li>Work </li></ul><ul><li>Intimate Relationships </li></ul><ul><li>Interpersonal Relationships </li></ul>
  15. 15. Work <ul><li>Hard worker…ACOA’s generally are high achievers at work </li></ul><ul><li>Takes on many tasks because have difficulty saying “no” due to the desire for people pleasing and need for acceptance from others </li></ul><ul><li>Lack of appreciation for hard work creates resentments </li></ul><ul><li>Struggles with receiving feedback and constructive criticism because it feels as though the “I’m bad” feelings are being reinforced </li></ul><ul><li>ACOA’s strive for perfection…they don’t permit </li></ul><ul><li>themselves to have mistakes and are their own </li></ul><ul><li>worst critics </li></ul>
  16. 16. Intimate Relationships <ul><li>Struggle with permitting self to have feelings and being able to delineate what those feelings are to their partner </li></ul><ul><li>Struggle with feeling safe enough to be intimately close to another person…lack of trust in another person </li></ul><ul><li>Fear that the partner will leave if they discover who the ACOA “truly” is on the inside </li></ul><ul><li>ACOA has an expectation of being hurt and abandoned so they either sabotage the relationship or hold on so tightly that their partner leaves </li></ul><ul><li>Constant testing of the loyalty of their partner through </li></ul><ul><li>creating an argument where there would not normally be one </li></ul>
  17. 17. Myths ACOA’s Believe About Intimate Relationships <ul><li>If I am involved with you, I will lose me. </li></ul><ul><li>If you really knew me, you would not care about me. </li></ul><ul><li>In order to be loveable, I must be happy all of the time. </li></ul><ul><li>If I am not in control at all times, there will be anarchy. </li></ul><ul><li>Being vulnerable always has negative results. </li></ul><ul><li>If you find out that I am not perfect, you will </li></ul><ul><li>abandon me. </li></ul><ul><li>See handout. </li></ul>
  18. 18. Fears that Perpetuate Intimacy Struggles <ul><li>I’m afraid I will hurt you. </li></ul><ul><li>The person you see doesn’t exist. </li></ul><ul><li>I’ll lose control… </li></ul><ul><li>I’m ashamed of who I am. </li></ul><ul><li>You’ll leave me anyway. </li></ul><ul><li>You will get to know me and find out that I am </li></ul><ul><li>not loveable. </li></ul>
  19. 19. Interpersonal Relationships <ul><li>Difficulty sharing emotion and feelings with others so there is a lack of closeness in relationships </li></ul><ul><li>People please to avoid rejection, conflict, and people learning who they “truly” are on the inside </li></ul><ul><li>ACOA’s act like chameleons and change depending on what ACOA believes the people around them want them to be. This works to prevent rejection and avoid conflict </li></ul><ul><li>Struggle with small talk because of fear of sharing opinion and not being liked because of this opinion </li></ul><ul><li>Struggle with sense of self </li></ul>
  20. 20. Resources for Help <ul><li>Reading Materials </li></ul><ul><li>ACOA and/or AlAnon Meetings </li></ul><ul><li>Therapy </li></ul>
  21. 21. Thank you for coming! <ul><li>Q & A </li></ul>