Dr. Jan, as she is known, believes that these common characteristics are prevalent not only in alcoholic families, but also for those who grew up in families where there were other compulsive behaviors, such as gambling, drug abuse or overeating.
Children who experienced chronic illness, strict religious attitudes, foster care and other dysfunction systems, also often identify with these characteristics, Woititz says.
The Laundry ListBefore Dr. Jan's book was published, however, an individual adult child of an alcoholic, Tony A., published in 1978 what he called "The Laundry List," another list of characteristics that can seem very familiar to those who grew up in dysfunctional homes.
Tony's list has been adopted as part of the Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization's official literature and is a basis for the article, "The Problem," published on the group's website.
Traits of an Adult Child of an AlcoholicAccording to Tony A's list, many adult children of alcoholics can:
- Become isolated
- Fear people and authority figures
- Become approval seekers
- Be frightened of angry people
- Be terrified of personal criticism
- Become alcoholics, marry them or both
- View life as a victim
- Have an overwhelming sense of responsibility
- Be concerned more with others than themselves
- Feel guilty when they stand up for themselves
- Become addicted to excitement
- Confuse love and pity
- 'Love' people who need rescuing
- Stuff their feelings
- Lose the ability to feel
- Have low self-esteem
- Judge themselves harshly
- Become terrified of abandonment
- Do anything to hold on to a relationship
- Become "para-alcoholics" without drinking
- Become reactors instead of actors
Attracted to Compulsive PersonalitiesMany adult children of alcoholics lose themselves in their relationship with others, sometimes finding themselves attracted to alcoholics or other compulsive personalities - such as workaholics - who are emotionally unavailable.
Adult children will also form relationships with others who need their help or need to be rescued, to the extent of neglecting their own needs. If they place the focus on the overwhelming needs of someone else, they do not have to look at their own difficulties and shortcomings.
Often, adult children of alcoholics will take on the characteristics of alcoholics, even though they have never picked up a drink - exhibiting denial, poor coping skills, poor problem solving, and forming dysfunctional relationships.
Help for Adult Children of AlcoholicsIf you identify with some of the above characteristics, or the 13 other characteristics outlined by Dr. Woititz, you might want to take the Adult Children Screening Quiz to get an idea of how much you may have been affected by growing up in a dysfunctional home. You will find more complete descriptions of these characteristics in Dr. Jan's book, Adult Children of Alcoholics.
Many adult children have found themselves so profoundly affected by the experience of growing up in a dysfunctional home, they seek professional treatment or counseling to help them resolve these issues.
Others have found help through mutual support groups such as Al-Anon Family Groups or Adult Children of Alcoholics. You can find a support group meeting in your area or online meetings for both Al-Anon and ACOA.
Sources: Janet G. Woititz, "The 13 Characteristics of Adult Children," The Awareness Center. Accessed November 2010. Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization, "The Laundry List – 14 Traits of an Adult Child of an Alcoholic," (Attributed to Tony A., 1978). Accessed November 2010.