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Adult Children of Alcoholics

by Clifford B. Melton, M.A., LPC, CEAP

        A major source of anxiety, conflicts over control are pervasive. Denial, suppression and repression are used in attempts to control the outward expression of, as well as, the inner awareness of thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Hyper vigilant ACA's automatically scan the environment for cues, wanting to know what is in front, behind, to the left and right of them at all times.

  2. TRUST
        Or distrust of others, as well as, of self.  They distrust what their own senses tell them.

        And the fundamental belief that feelings are wrong, bad and scary.  Feelings become associated with actions.  Instead of looking at feelings as a potential cause of behavior, ACA's see feelings as a direct, immediate cause of behavior.

        Compounded by the self-centeredness of young children, ACA's see themselves as the center of the universe.

        ACA's grow up believing they are responsible for other's emotions and actions. 

  6. NEEDS
        ACA's have a tendency to ignore their own needs.  They find that acknowledging their personal needs leads them to feel guilty, as if imposing on others.  If they ask for something, the other person has something over them and they are vulnerable.

        ACA's have a tendency to think, feel and behave in an all or none way.  Everything is black or white, there is no in-between.  All is right or wrong.  They view trust as an all or none function.  ACA's bounce back and forth between extremes, either trusting totally, or distrusting so fully they will not share anything. Neither strategy is effective. ACA's associate feelings with behavior and are reluctant to deal with emotions.  If anger is expressed, they are struck by fear or panic, convinced that violence may follow, or that the relationship will be severed. The inability to function in terms of degree invariably predisposes ACA's to failure. Because of the all or none approach, they are not able to utilize information from their environment very well.  Experiences are forced to fit their black and white view of the world.

        Accustomed to frequent crises and emergencies ACA's may find themselves depressed or anxious when life is stable and uneventful. They become "adrenaline junkies."

        Their low self-esteem comes from not trusting themselves, from not knowing their own feelings, from having an all or none way of looking at things.  ACA's rarely give themselves credit for what they have accomplished unless it is perfect.

        ACA's repeatedly align themselves with people who are emotionally unavailable or unsupportive, people who are alcoholic or addicted to other drugs, or people who are very dependent and needy. Intimate relationships which require give and take, surrender of control, an ability to see oneself as human and fallible are difficult for ACA's.

        The rigidity inherent in the characteristics that un-recovering ACA's bring into their adult years makes smooth transitions difficult.  Instead, ACA's are often resistant to change and get stuck in old patterns.  Faced with unexpected events, with no time to anticipate a situation or prepare a response, ACA's will automatically fall back into their old habitual behavior patterns, get anxious, shut down, enter a flurry of activity or deny what is happening.


There will always be situations in which someone you love will let you down, because he or she does not have the knowledge or the ability to deal more gracefully with that situation.  Similarly, please acknowledge the same thing about yourself.  There will always be situations that you will not be able to handle well either.  That does not mean that you are a bad person, or that you do not love the other person.  It just means that you are human.