The Character Traits of Adult Children of Alcoholics (Part One)

The Character Traits of Adult Children of Alcoholics (Part One) |

In 1983, Dr. Janet Woititz wrote a groundbreaking book titled, Adult Children of Alcoholics. The book outlines the characteristics of adults who were raised in homes in which there was at least one form of compulsive behavior. This could be an addiction to alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, or eating.

The following outlines 7 of 14 of those characteristics. It is interesting to note that there are many households in which these traits exist but that there might not be an overt addiction in the home. For instance, there might intense levels of shame in members of the family or repressed anger or where one or both parents exhibited controlling behavior. In fact, since the publication of her book, Woititz acknowledges that there are various dysfunctional family backgrounds that possess the traits similar to those of an alcoholic family.

The following list does not necessarily describe the alcoholic family dynamic, but rather the traits of an adult who grew up in a family environment that included some form of an addiction or compulsive behavior. Seven of fourteen of these are listed below:

  • Fear of Losing Control – Adult children of alcoholics tend to want to control their feelings, their behavior, as well as the feelings and behavior of others. There is usually an underlying fear that if this sort of control is relinquished, life will become more problematic.
  • Fear of Emotions or Feelings – The reason behind the need to control feelings is rooted in the fear of feelings and emotions, and with this is the inability to express emotions. Furthermore, it is not just challenging feelings, but also positive ones that are avoided and difficult to express.
  • Conflict Avoidance – When a person of authority is in the room, an adult child of alcoholism is particularly sensitive. They do not take any criticism well and will have a fear of anyone in authority. At the same time, they will tend to seek approval from that authority figure and lose their own sense of identity.
  • Constant Approval Seeking – Along with the point above, adult children of alcoholism tend to put the needs of others first. This is due in part because their sense of self worth comes from the judgments of others. This leads to a pattern of perfectionism and seeking acceptance from others.
  • An Inability to Relax – The young child inside the adult has difficulty relaxing and having fun. In fact, there might even be a fear associated with relaxation because it tests their need to control feelings, behavior, and inner experiences.
  • Self-Critical and Low Self Esteem – Due to seeking approval from others and not believing in their own competencies, adults who were raised with an alcoholic family tend to have a very low self esteem and can be very self-critical.
  • Denial – There is often a pattern of denial to anything that challenges the very parts of themselves that they feel the need to control. If someone points to that which an adult child of alcoholism feels shameful about, denial will be the first recourse.

Although these traits are those that Dr. Woititz listed for the presence of alcoholism in a family and are applied to adults who were raised in such a family, they may apply to any adult who was raised in a dysfunctional home.

Look for the remaining 7 of these 14 traits in The Character Traits of Adult Children of Alcoholics – Part Two. Knowing which traits apply to you can facilitate becoming more aware and making different choices in your life for healthier relationships and a more fulfilling life.


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