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What is Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA)?

a father drinking alcohol with his kids aroundWith 46.5 million U.S. adults struggling with substance use disorders including alcoholism, it makes sense that many parents have trouble with substance abuse. That abuse turns into abuse, neglect, and dysfunctional households, often resulting in situations where children (from a young age) take on the emotional and practical responsibilities of their parents. While many children will step up and show extreme resilience even when having to take care of their own parents, that leaves marks including trauma, unfamiliarity with healthy relationships, and difficulty forming relationships as an adult.

While much of this trauma should be brought to a therapist specializing in treating trauma, complex PTSD, and relationship hierarchy and dynamic problems – you can also seek out self-help and support groups. Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families or ACOA is one of those organizations, designed around giving you a framework, peer support, and structure to share about, talk about, and move past your family.

What is ACA?

ACA or ACOA is a 12 Step program focused on “emotional” sobriety, or recovering from reliance on parents who won’t or can’t be there. The idea is that as children, we naturally lean on parents and ask for support from those parents. When they don’t give us the love and emotional support we need, we continue asking for it, well beyond the point where it’s obvious they cannot and never will give it to us.

ACA is a self-help group comprised of individual groups of people who follow the 12 steps to recovery. Here, Adult Children offers group literature, meetings, and support to help adult children of addicts to identify the problems that resulted from them being raised by parents who were unwell and to offer a path to try to find healing and independence.

Like Alcoholics Anonymous, Adult Children uses a group format, where you can sit in on meetings until you’re invited to join as a member. As a member, you can start to share, sharing and discussing around themes based on the meetings, including whatever is important to you that week. It also includes a path, with the 12 steps to becoming self-aware of yourself, of your powerlessness to affect how your parents treat or perceive you, and the damage your parents have done – as well as what that has resulted in for you. Often, the focus is on letting go of codependence, healing wounds from trauma, and building a basis for healthy relationships.

Get Your Questions Answered

The Problem/Solution

mother and adult daughterAdult Children of Alcoholics uses a “Problem” / “Solution” format where it attempts to identify the problems people have in common. The ACA Founder based the “Problem” on a list of 14 traits that adult children of alcoholics often have in common. For example:

  • “We experience guilt when we stand up for ourselves”
  • “We have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility and easily become concerned with others while ignoring our own needs”
  • “We find ourselves drawn to people with compulsive personalities to fulfill our codependency needs”
  • “We are easily frightened by angry people and by criticism”

The “Solution” is based on the flip side of that list, which is the “goal” state for someone attending ACOA. Here, you normally work towards setting goals for yourself based on specific issues that you have. Often, that’s expressed in terms of the needs of the inner child, in terms of finding peace with yourself, and in unlearning harmful coping mechanisms you may have used to survive in the past. Those goals can look like:

  • “I will not use enabling others as a way to avoid looking at my own shortcomings”
  • “I will choose emotional stability and working relationships rather than emotional highs and upsets”
  • “I will stop judging and condemning myself and will find my sense of self-worth”
  • “I do not depend on others to define who I am”
  • “I will be independent and not terrified of abandonment. I will foster independent relationships with healthy people and will actively avoid dependent relationships with emotionally unavailable people”

These goals are based on the “reverse laundry list” and are normally shared as part of a group format, where you can decide what you need and how.

Eventually, your goals will be your own. However, Adult Children of Alcoholics has a list of 14 potential goals, which many people use as a guide and as an affirmation of where they want to be.

What is Emotional Sobriety?

Emotional sobriety is the concept of not being codependent on others, including your own parents. That may be important even if your parents are no longer part of your life. For example, you may find yourself seeking out tumultuous relationships. You may have difficulty connecting to others. You may find yourself seeking out relationships where you get to be the caretaker, such as when your loved one is an alcohol or a workaholic. You might also realize you struggle with sobriety yourself, because you don’t know how to maintain emotional stability.

Adult Children of Alcoholics puts a strong focus on separating yourself from a lifestyle seeking out highs and lows of emotions and pushes individuals towards finding stability, making healthy choices, and valuing stability and healthy relationships. To achieve this, you get work materials, support from peers, and sharing experiences with peers, all of which can give you a significant amount of insight into how much of your personality and behaviors are learned behaviors that other people in similar situations have too.

Eventually, Adult Children of Alcoholics is a tool that you can use to get social and emotional support in your recovery from being codependent or traumatized. However, it may not be enough, and you may also benefit from going into therapy and getting mental health treatment around your specific problems. On the other hand, if you aren’t struggling a great deal it may be enough. However, it’s always important to ensure that you also have professional help available if you’re struggling. In addition, Adult Children of Alcoholics is about long-term support and help where most therapy is about offering you tools you can use immediately. So, the best solution may be to use both.

Asana Recovery is located in Orange County, California. and offers detoxresidential, and outpatient addiction treatment services in our modern and comfortable addiction treatment facilities. Please contact us today to speak with one of our experienced addiction treatment team if you have any questions about our programs.