Addiction Help: Knowing the Traits of Adult Children of Alcoholics – Part One

Addiction | LakehouseRecoveryCenter.comExperts in the field of psychology have studied the character traits of those who’ve undergone drug addiction treatment and/or who have struggled with addiction in their lives. For instance, 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 articles in this two part series outlines these character traits. However, it should be noted that these traits may exist even if there is no 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.

Six of the character traits are listed below. The following list does not necessarily describe the alcoholic family dynamic, but rather an adult who grew up in a family environment in which there was addiction and/or compulsive behavior.

  • 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.  This fear may even prompt the use of drugs or alcohol as well as the need for drug detox and addiction treatment later in life.
  • 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.

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. They may even apply to those families in which a member has or is currently attending a drug and alcohol treatment center. It is frequently the case that when there was an addiction in the home, even though it’s being tended to, the dysfunctional traits remain.

Look for the remaining 10 of these 16 traits in second part of this article series. If any of these sound familiar to you, knowing them can facilitate making different choices in your life for healthier relationships and a more fulfilling life.


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