5 Characteristics of Adult Children of Alcoholics

5 Characteristics of Adult Children of Alcoholics

Adult children of alcoholics spend most of their lives being plagued by the struggles of growing up with a parent who has an active addiction.

A large part of this is due to the fact that they were never a priority for their parent.

This means they didn't have a positive role model to teach them how to take care of themselves, build their emotional intelligence, and form healthy relationships.

However, it also means much more than this.

Here are some of the most common characteristics adult children of alcoholics tend to develop.

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Inconsistent and Impulsive Behavior

Adult children of alcoholics tend to be both impulsive and inconsistent.

You'll see them make decisions and respond to situations without ever pausing to think of other options or even the consequences that are involved.

Even when they make this decision they'll struggle to follow through with it.

This is because they feel like they have to take care of everyone and everything around them so they spend a lot of time fixing problems.

Unfortunately, this frequently leads to ill consequences that they must then also work to fix.

It's a vicious cycle.


Most adult children of alcoholics have no idea how to respond to a situation normally.

They find themselves guessing as to how they should respond.

Sometimes this is because they feel like they're different from everyone else around them.

At other times it's because they believe that they deserve special treatment or allowances for their dysfunctional behavior.

Regardless of the reason, it makes it difficult to maintain positive relationships so they become isolated.

Relationship Inconsistencies

Adult children of alcoholics struggle with relationships.

They seek others' approval and can't accept criticism, regardless of whether it's in their best interest.

Instead, they'll make the person out to be the villain.

Overreactions like this are quite common for adult children of alcoholics.

Their impulsivity leads to extreme overreactions that are usually emotional in nature.

This doesn't help the situation but instead moves it negatively.

For instance, they may tell the person that they don't know what they're talking about in hopes of shutting down the conversation.

Other forms of emotional manipulation (e.g., blaming, crying, silent treatment) are also common.

Unfortunately, this makes romantic relationships difficult.

When you can't engage with others in a positive way you find yourself staying in damaging relationships for too long.

You may also find yourself taking things too seriously all the time.

These thoughts and behaviors lead adult children of alcoholics to experience a lot of extreme ups and downs in their relationship.

Attempts to Control the Uncontrollable

It's quite common to see adult children of alcoholics lashing out against their environment in hopes of being able to control the uncontrollable.

They do this in a few different ways.

Sometimes you'll find that they lie, exaggerate the truth, or omit parts because they feel the truth would be problematic.

This is because they don't understand what a socially acceptable response is.

Unfortunately, they'll even do this when the truth would have been perfectly acceptable.

At other times you'll find that they'll play the victim card.

This is because they can't see how their choices lead to consequences.

Instead of accepting these consequences, they blame those around them while defending themselves.

Since they also struggle to acknowledge their mistakes they'll repeat this scenario frequently instead of learning from them so that they can make better choices in the future.

If they're not playing the victim, they'll often be quite judgmental of themselves.

When you act in this way it's difficult to ever feel content.

Instead, there's an underlying dis-ease about life in general that makes living a challenge.

Development of Substance Abuse Disorders

Adult children of alcoholics know firsthand how devastating addiction is.

This may not be enough to stop them from developing a substance abuse disorder themselves.

There are many reasons why this may happen, including:

  • Genetics
  • Environment
  • Early age of first use
  • A lack of positive coping mechanisms


Adult children of alcoholics should know that it's important to take some time to address these addiction issues.

You need help so you can live a healthy, balanced life and we want you to know that we're here for you.

At Overcomers Counseling our therapists want to see you succeed, so if you need some support, take some time to reach out to us.


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March 27th, 2023

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