When a child grows up with a parent or parents that are addicted to alcohol or/and drugs, it can effect them well into adulthood.
Growing up in an unstable environment where they often have to be the adult or caretaker of the parent, these children are denied their childhood. They learn to keep their feelings held in at home, and may act out when in school or in other environments. It is difficult for children of addicts to form loving bonds with others because they have not learned this at home. They often grow up with trust issues and low self esteem. Addiction is a family problem, effecting all of those who come in daily contact and care for or love the person that is addicted.
Tony Allen wrote the “Laundry List” in 1977. This is a list of common characteristics of those that are raised in alcoholic or drug addicted households.
- We became isolated and afraid of people and authority figures.
- We became approval seekers and lost our identity in the process.
- We are frightened by angry people and criticism.
- We either become alcoholics, marry them, or both, or find another compulsive personality such as a workaholic to fulfill our sick abandonment needs.
- We live from the view point of victim and are attracted by the weakness in our love and friendship relationships.
- We have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility and it is easier for us to be concerned with others rather than ourselves. This enables us not to look to closely at our own faults.
- We get guilt feelings when we stand up for ourselves instead of giving in to others.
- We become addicted to excitement.
- We confuse love with pity and tend to “love” people who we can ‘pity’ and ‘rescue’.
- We have stuffed our feelings from our traumatic childhoods and have lost the ability to feel or express our feelings because it hurts so much.
- We judge ourselves harshly and have a very low sense of self-esteem.
- We are dependent personalities who are terrified od abandonment and will do anything to hold on to a relationship in order not to experience painful abandonment feelings which we received from living with sick people who were never there emotionally for us.
Allen’s Laundry List was the original source for what then became the twelve steps of ACA:
- We admitted that we were powerless over the effects of living with alcoholism and that our lives had become unmanageable.
- We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could bring us clarity.
- We made a decision to practice self-love and to trust a Higher Power of our understanding.
- We made a searching and blameless inventory of our parents because, in essence, we had become them.
- We admitted to our Higher Power, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our childhood abandonment.
- We were entirely ready to begin the healing process with the aid of our Higher Power.
- We humbly asked our Higher Power to help us with our healing process.
- We became willing to open ourselves to receive the unconditional love of our Higher Power.
- We became willing to accept our own unconditional love by understanding that our Higher Power loves us unconditionally.
- We continued to take personal inventory and to love and approve of ourselves.
- We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with our Higher Power, praying only for knowledge of its will for us and the power to carry it out.
- We have had a spiritual awakening as a result of taking these steps, and we continue to love ourselves and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
Adult Children of Alcoholics was written by Janet Woititz in 1983. Her list of characteristics of the child that is raised with addicted parents is often confused with Allen’s Laundry List, which came first. Here is an excerpt from her book:
- Adult children of alcoholics guess at what normal behavior is.
- Adult children of alcoholics have difficulty following a project through from beginning to end.
- Adult children of alcoholics lie when it would be just as easy to tell the truth.
- Adult children of alcoholics judge themselves without mercy.
- Adult children of alcoholics have difficulty having fun.
- Adult children of alcoholics take themselves very seriously.
- Adult children of alcoholics have difficulty with intimate relationships.
- Adult children of alcoholics overreact to changes over which they have no control.
- Adult children of alcoholics constantly seek approval and affirmation.
- Adult children of alcoholics usually feel that they are different from other people.
- Adult children of alcoholics are super responsible or super irresponsible.
- Adult children of alcoholics are extremely loyal, even in the face of evidence that the loyalty is undeserved.
- Adult children of alcoholics are impulsive. They tend to lock themselves into a course of action without giving serious consideration to alternative behaviors or possible consequences. This impulsively leads to confusion, self-loathing and loss of control over their environment. In addition, they spend an excessive amount of energy cleaning up the mess.
The Laundry List and Woititz’s characteristics overlap. The common theme is that alcoholism and addiction effect how a person relates to the world and themselves way beyond childhood. Although some children of addicts may grow into adulthood as healthy adults, for many others It may take years of conscious healing to work through the emotional abandonment suffered in childhood, and for many others, they fall into the same pattern as their parents because that was how they learned to deal with life. The cycle of addiction can last for generations, until someone becomes educated and willing to stop the cycle.
There are many groups and support systems available for children of addicts such as: AlAnon, Alateen, ACA (Adult Children of Alcoholics), group therapy, and individual counseling. It is never too early nor too late to get into therapy. If children you know have an addicted parent, or if you were raised in an addicted household, getting into counseling or becoming a part of one of these groups will help you to heal and grow into the person you were meant to be. You do not have to carry your parent’s addiction with you for the rest of your life.
Woititz, Janet Geringer. “13 Characteristics.” Adult Children of Alcoholics. Pompano Beach, FL: Health Communications, 1983. N. pag. Print
Tony A. with Dan F. Tony A’s 12 Steps of Recovery. The Laundry List. Published by:
Health Communications, Inc., Deerfield Beach, Florida