16 Signs You're An Adult Child Of An Alcoholic — And It's Still Affecting You Today

Children of addicts are wonderful people, and everyone knows it... except them.

Last updated on Oct 10, 2023

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Are you an adult child of an alcoholic? Most of us know if Mom or Dad drank. What we may not know is that it impacts our adult life a lot more than we think it does.

There are common long-term effects among those of us with alcoholic parents, ill parents, and parents we couldn't count on that follow us to adulthood.

What does it mean to be an adult child of an alcoholic?

Being an adult child of an alcoholic (also known as ACOA) is a unique and often challenging experience that stems from growing up in a household where one or more family members struggled with alcoholism.


Research indicates that alcoholics are more likely than non-alcoholics to have alcoholic relatives, which means that ACOAs are often exposed to the impact of alcoholism within their own families. They are also more likely to continue to encounter alcohol-related issues even outside their homes because they are prone to marrying into families that also include alcoholism.

With roughly 1 in 8 American adults experiencing alcohol-related problems, there are an estimated 28.6 million ACOAs in the United States, with 6.6 million being children under the age of 18. Unfortunately, ACOAs are also at a significantly higher risk (2 to 4 times more likely) of developing alcoholism themselves, due to a combination of physiological and environmental factors that seem to place them at greater susceptibility.


RELATED: 10 Early Signs Of Alcoholism You Should Never, Ever Ignore

The effects of growing up in an alcoholic household often manifest in various ways, including a fear of abandonment, difficulty forming intimate bonds, and a fear of change.

Feelings of inadequacy can be pervasive among ACOAs, even if they perform well academically or in other aspects of their lives. These psychological scars are compounded by an increased risk for other drug use, especially as ACOAs approach late adolescence.


Being an adult child of an alcoholic can have long-lasting and far-reaching consequences that mold one's worldview and emotional well-being.

Here are 16 signs you're an adult child of an alcoholic and it's still affecting you.

1. You have extremely low self-esteem.

Adult children of alcoholics judge themselves without mercy and need a lot of approval and love from other people. You're likely constantly examining your actions, choices, and even your own character with an unrelenting sense of criticism.

This internal dialogue can be draining. You set impossibly high standards for yourself and harshly criticize yourself for any perceived flaws.

In an attempt to cope with this intense self-criticism, you often seek validation and reassurance from those around you.


2. You feel guilty.

Many times, you think there’s something wrong with doing anything good for yourself or feeling good about yourself — that it would mean you're egotistical or selfish.

Or, whatever goes wrong or whoever is unhappy, you feel like it’s your fault somehow.

3. You have no mind of your own.

You look to close people around you before you decide how you should feel and what you should think. And it’s always, "What should I feel or think?” not, "How do I actually feel or think?" no matter what the situation is.

4. You're emotionally numb to yourself.

Many times, how you actually feel comes so late in your experience that you're grindingly, wrenchingly miserable before it dawns on you how you actually wanted or needed things to be.


You say "yes" to please others, believing it will all turn out fine (because they think it will), and then you're a long way down the wrong road before you see how badly you're hurting and know you need things to change.

5. You often say, 'But I have to.;

You feel obligated to meet your family’s needs and wants to make everyone else happy. You feel as if you're a bad person if you can’t or don’t want to do this.

When someone else’s needs or wants conflict with yours, you feel fused with their upset feelings, as if you have no choice but to make them happy — no matter what you want, or what it will cost you.

You may only see one or two extreme options for what to do when really you might have many other choices and they just aren’t showing up on your radar.


RELATED: Signs You Grew Up As The 'Lost Child' — And It's Affecting You Now

6. You feel like you don’t really know what’s healthy or normal in a relationship.

It's as if you're navigating unfamiliar terrain without a clear map or guide. This lack of clarity can leave you feeling somewhat lost and vulnerable, uncertain about whether your expectations and boundaries align with what's considered typical or balanced.

This uncertainty can lead to a variety of challenges in your relationships, both platonic and romantic.

7. You have dozens of unfinished projects.

You have trouble finishing things. It's as if you have a constant struggle with that last push to finish what you've started. This challenge with follow-through can be present in various aspects of your life, from work to personal tasks/chores.


One of the consequences of struggling to finish things is the feeling of frustration that often accompanies incomplete tasks. You might find yourself frustrated with your own inability to see things through to the end, even when you've invested significant time and effort.

8. You always want to please others.

There’s a classic book called "When I Say No, I Feel Guilty." That title really is the adult child of an alcoholic theme song.

You don’t want to upset anyone by saying "no" so you say "yes" to things you know you don’t want to do or don’t have time to do. Then you conveniently "forget" them or try to weasel out of them.

9. You're scared of raised voices.

You may have grown up in a home where there was constant arguing, and things may have even turned violent. Though it's been years, you're still affected by loud noises or people raising their voice, even if it's not directed at you.


Because of this, you'll do or say just about anything to avoid an argument, including lying about your true feelings. You do a lot of giving in and going along, then later, you're angry when something didn’t turn out at all comfortable for you, and now you have to live with it.

10. You believe the world is a somber and sad place.

You don’t get many of your own needs met, you work all the time, you don’t get a lot of rest, and life never feels like a whole lot of fun. You never got to have any fun as a kid and you still don’t.

You have this sense that you just aren’t like other people. Deep down, you just know there’s something wrong with you and that’s why no one will ever really love you.

11. You can’t find that middle place that’s just right.

Either you're the person who always finds yourself having to take care of everyone else or you’re the person who just can’t seem to do very well.


Maybe you're still living at home, or you can’t get or hang onto the kind of job or salary that your intelligence or abilities suggest you should be able to. Or, you're the spouse, significant other, or parent of someone like this, and you're the one pulling the weight for that person — and resenting it.

This kind of imbalance in your relationships is common, where one person pulls too much weight and the other pulls too little.

RELATED: 12 Things People Who Grew Up In Dysfunctional Families Don’t Understand

12. You stay in bad relationships a lot longer than you should.

You often find yourself lingering in relationships that have soured or become detrimental far longer than what might be considered reasonable or healthy. It's as if you have a tendency to hold on, even when the signs of trouble are evident.


One of the reasons for staying in these relationships beyond their expiration date could be a deep sense of commitment and a desire to make things work. You get a lot of treatment from others that make you feel bad, but you always have a reason why you "should," "need to," or "have to" stay.

13. You're very unhappy.

But you don’t see a whole lot of options for how to change your life. And for the options you do see, you find yourself saying, "But I can’t do that because..."

Your relationship tends to swing from close to distant to close to distant, from good to bad, and back again, over and over.

14. You're impulsive.

If you're an adult child of alcoholics, you might notice that you tend to act impulsively. This means that when you make choices or respond to situations, you may not always take the time to think about the possible outcomes or consider other options.


As a result, you often find yourself spending a lot of your time trying to fix the problems that arise from your impulsive actions and working to hide the consequences that follow.

15. You often isolate yourself.

You often find it challenging to know how to respond appropriately in various situations. You might end up guessing what the right reaction should be, and this can lead to feelings of being different from everyone else around you.

Sometimes you may even believe that you can't properly function with others or that you should receive special treatment for your behavior. These thoughts can make it tough to maintain positive relationships and can cause you to self-isolate.


Feeling isolated can also be a big trigger for a relapse, so it's crucial to be aware of this.

16. You lack consistency.

You have a hard time sticking to your commitments. This difficulty with follow-through isn't just limited to your work; it extends to your personal life and relationships as well.

You often take on a lot because you have a strong urge to care for everything and everyone around you, but it can be a challenge to consistently follow through and keep your promises, which can lead to stress and frustration.

How To Seek Help As An Adult Child Of An Alcoholic

If this sounds like you, the worst thing you can possibly ever do is stick your head in the sand and say, "I can’t do anything about it."


It can feel very scary to start therapy or to pick up a book on adult children of alcoholics or about codependency. You feel as if you are about to be told exactly what’s wrong with you that no one treats you better, and that it’s all your fault, but that’s not what’s going to happen. I had a lot of these same feelings being raised by a parent with a personality disorder.

The best thing that can happen to you is for you to be able to raise your eyes above the horizon of your childhood, how you’ve always been treated, what other people will say, and how life’s always been for you. You're not going to hear a lot of terrible things about yourself. You're not crazy or stupid. You just need a bird's eye view of your life.

There’s a lot of missing pieces in your understanding of why your life’s turned out the way it has, and it can get a lot better. But it never will if you’re scared of information and getting good help.

If you or someone you know is an adult child of alcoholics, reach out to the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or visit their website to find support and guidance.


RELATED: 10 Things Every Child Needs To Hear From Their Parents To Live A Great Life

P.D. Reader is a level one student in the NCGR School of Astrology, but her work focuses on spirituality, lifestyle, and relationship topics. She runs Unfaithful: Perspectives on the Third-Party Relationship on Medium.