What Is a Child of an Alcoholic Syndrome?

What Is a Child of an Alcoholic Syndrome?

The Child of an Alcoholic Syndrome is likely to be what you imagine it means: a syndrome rooted from the trauma of being a literal child of an alcoholic. If you’re a child of an alcoholic or belong to a family affected by the alcoholism disease, like, say you grew up with a parent or a guardian who’s an alcoholic, you’ll tend to have a bit of what’s called as arrested development. You haven’t really grown up in a myriad of ways because the adult responsible for guiding you towards adulthood wasn’t able to fulfill his adult responsibilities, so you’re left forced to either grow up fast or never grow up. That’s the idea behind being the Child of an Alcoholic Syndrome

Arrested Development in Adult Children

Arrested Development isn’t just a popular sitcom without a laugh track starring the fictional Bluth Family. It also refers to the state that most if not all of the adults in the Bluth Family are in, wherein they don’t act like adults but rather act like children in grownup bodies. This is also the condition for many who are traumatized by having alcoholic parents, also known as Child of an Alcoholic Syndrome. Sure, they might grow up physically, but many other aspects of their psyche such as their emotional, psychological, and spiritual health are that of a child.

They have low EQ or the emotional quotient even as they pass all their SATs and graduated top of their class due to their high IQ or intelligence quotient. This is because they’re stuck back in their early childhood, their trauma from dealing with an alcoholic adult that’s either neglectful or violent, maybe even both, keeping them from developing into holistically healthy adults. They never learned the “normal” way of reacting, feeling, or thinking. Instead, they’ve ended up normalizing childishness and immaturity, which manifests itself in multiple ways.

The Dangers of Being Adult Children

According to the website of the Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization (WSO), the term of “Adult Children” refers to grownups raised in alcoholic homes who exhibit identifiable traits that reveal a past full of neglect and abuse. It’s synonymous to the terms, “Child of an Alcoholic”, “Children of an Alcoholic,” “Child of Alcoholics”, or “Children of Alcoholics”. There have been more than 20 years of research used in regards to this condition, and this is what the researchers have found out.

  • Dysfunctional Homes: Did you know that the personality traits of a Child of an Alcoholic or children from alcoholic home have a lot in common with children who grew up in dysfunctional homes? Very few children end up in homes that aren’t dysfunctional or have them not somehow neglected or abused in some way by the alcoholic in question. Some perhaps have high-functional alcoholics who don’t neglect or abuse their children. Others instead might have children who got over their trauma.

  • Compulsive Behaviors: The true danger regarding being an immature Adult Child or Child of an Alcoholic is exhibiting characteristics that reflect their environment or abuser. In other words, chances are the children of an alcoholic will likely become alcoholics themselves because they learned it from their parent or guardian. This is also the deal with homes where there are other compulsive behaviors other than excessive heavy or binge drinking.

  • Aside from Drinking and Alcoholism: The Child of an Alcoholic Syndrome is merely a subcategory of Adult Children or adults with arrested development. Becoming an Adult Child an also occur in children raised in homes where drugs and alcohol weren’t present at all. As long as unhealthy behavior such as neglect and abuse is present in the household that makes it into a dysfunctional one, any child and grow up into becoming an Adult Child. Therefore, alcoholism causing the alcoholic to be neglectful and abusive is what causes his children to become Adult Children.

The same presence of abandonment, shame, and abuse found in Adult Children can be found in children in other types of dysfunctional homes with certain compulsive behaviors leading abusiveness present such as:

    • Gambling

    • Overeating

    • Alcoholism

    • Chronic illness

    • Drug addictions

    • Behavioral addictions

    • Some foster or adoptive homes

    • Strict or legalistic religious practices

    • Many other dysfunctional systems or compulsions

What Are the Common Characteristics of Adult Children?

Young man in agony having problems with narcotics

Those who’ve studied the Adult Child over the years will tend to also cite the current Millennial Generation who has made the concept of being an adult into a verb, called “Adulting”. Not all of these kids have undergone the abuse and neglect that “true” Adult Children suffering from conditions like Child of an Alcoholic Syndrome have undergone. However, it’s also true that many Millennials have either suffered from being the Latchkey Children of the 1980s and 1990s or the overly protected spoiled brats of the 2000s and 2010s. Many of the Millennial Generation outright refuse to grow up.

Clinically categorized Adult Children are the more severe and traumatized version of the stereotypical Millennial Manchild or Womanchild. Regardless, researchers have compiled a list of common traits that these Adult Children who grew up in dysfunctional homes seem to share when push comes to shove. In light of the Millennial stereotype of self-entitlement and childishness, perhaps it’s a matter of cultural abuse, but that’s beside the point of the study. Regardless, the following characteristics were made by Dr. Janet G. Woititz back in 1983, well before the adulthood of the Millennial Generation of today.

More to the point, quite a lot of Children of Alcoholics and other children from dysfunctional homes suffer from the following issues:

  • They have difficulty in having fun.

  • They take themselves very seriously.

  • They judge themselves without mercy.

  • They constantly seek approval and affirmation

  • They feel that they are different from other people

  • They lie when it would be just as easy to tell the truth.

  • They can only guess at what normal is supposed to be.

  • They overreact to changes over which they have no control.

  • They have difficulty with maintaining any intimate relationships.

  • They are either incredibly responsible or incredibly irresponsible.

  • They are extremely loyal even when faced with evidence that loyalty is undeserved.

  • They have difficulty in following a project all the way through from beginning to end.

These are general characteristics in nature. Therefore, this list or certain individual entries don’t apply wholesale to everyone suffering from the syndrome. Some might be applicable while others aren’t. There are also other traits and characteristics that aren’t on this list, which isn’t meant to be comprehensive. Nevertheless, you should by now have a better idea what having the Child of an Alcoholic Syndrome entails.

The Other Laundry List for This Syndrome

Not all Children of Alcoholics are affected by the traumatic experience of being raised by an alcoholic in the same manner. Even though many live their lives victimized by the neglect and abuse of their parents, relatives, or guardians, others have the opposite reaction from experience and become victimizers themselves by learning from the behavior exhibited by the adults in their life.

Therefore, the WSO developed another laundry list throughout the course of their Adult Children of Alcoholics research that outlines the characteristics of these children who compensate for their trauma and childhood experience by becoming defensive and aggressive. It’s like how certain people compensate for their insecurities about themselves by having excessive lifestyles or buying the most expensive of possessions.

According to WSO’s other list of common behaviors for Children of Alcoholics, these Adult Children will tend to exhibit the following actions and tendencies:

  • They’re unaware of their childishness.

  • They deny trauma from their upbringing.

  • They have a different concept of normalcy.

  • They can hinder fears by staying numb and deadened.

  • They can frighten others with belittling criticism and anger.

  • They can make people feel guilty when they assert themselves.

  • They can overcompensate for insecurities with extreme action.

  • They can dominate others before abandoning and isolating them.

  • They might let go of relationships quickly that become “too close”.

  • They can project their self-loathing onto others and punish them for it.

  • They can become irresponsible and self-centered to cover shortcomings.

  • They can turn immensely self-sufficient while disdaining others’ approval.

  • They are drawn to most people that can be controlled and manipulated by them.

  • They can become authority figures to frighten others and cause them to withdraw.

  • They might suppress emotions by the dramatic expression of “pseudo” or faked feelings.

  • They can defensively proclaim that they’re nothing like the dependent people who raised them in the first place.

  • They can become authority figures to frighten others and cause them to withdraw dysfunction in the home they were raised in.

  • They can hate those who “play” victim and beg to be rescued because they hate seeing things they themselves indulge in when others do them.

Do These Characteristics Sound Familiar?

You or someone you know may think you’re aware for a long time how growing up in a dysfunctional or alcoholic home can affect you or others, but there’s a huge chance that you and many people like you haven’t been aware of what the Child of an Alcoholic Syndrome entails. You might have become an Adult Child without you noticing it, with you hurting yourself and those close to you with the way you impulsively react or compensate for the type of upbringing you’ve gone through when push came to shove.

Many Adult Children struggle with the results of being raised in a home of an alcoholic or several. However, they can’t verbalize, realize, or recognize why they’re struggling or what they’re struggling against. Many don’t make the connection with the problems they experience as adults with how they were raised by alcoholics. They believe that their upbringing is normal and the difficulties they’re going through are also part of life and can’t be changed for the better. They lack self-awareness of their state of childishness even though it has affected everything about them, including their choices, behavior, and attitudes.

Making a Decision to Seek Help

It’s when a Child of an Alcoholic seeks help for such problems that they can finally become self-aware or cognizant of the influence and trauma of growing up in a household dominated by an alcoholic caretaker who has abandoned their responsibilities as caretaker. Recognizing their compulsions will keep them from letting impulse dictate their decision-making ability, attitude towards life, and their interactions with others as a whole.

  • Self-Awareness: Many Adult Children will eventually become aware of their arrested development and do the steps necessary in order to develop aspects of their lives that remain immature or traumatized. They can, in particular, decide to seek help in regards to their mental and emotional issues. They might notice that their upbringing has left them as mature as children in certain areas of their existence because their answers to life and decisions don’t seem to work.

  • The Consequences of Addiction: The first step to recovery with alcohol addiction, whether you’re the addict or the family members of the addict, is to be aware of the problem. The issue with alcoholism is that it doesn’t stop at the alcoholic. Even those around you, especially your children, will suffer from your alcoholism. These Adult Children hold out hope that moving to a new place, having a new relationship, or getting a new job is the cure to their doldrums, but that doesn’t address their root problem of being too immature to deal with an adult’s life.

  • Pattern of Behavior: The development of Adult Children is arrested and they react to conflict in ways a child would in light of their upbringing. People suffering from Child of an Alcoholic Syndrome have the tendency to lock themselves into a pattern of behavior without considering alternative courses of action or the possible consequences of what they’re doing, like a child would. This tendency to be impulsive leads to loss of control over their environment, self-loathing, and confusion. Furthermore, this results in them spending a lot of their time cleaning up messes they themselves made.

  • Addressing Your Past: Many Children of Alcoholics notice that their lives have become unmanageable because of their impulses and bad decision-making, such that at the back of their minds they’re forced to admit that their past truly has impacted them more than they think it had. They might also realize they need help because of the growing feeling of despair in their hearts, such that they feel they’ve exhausted all the methods of becoming happy and contributing members of society. It’s as if they’re stuck in limbo, like children faced with problems and situations they aren’t equipped to deal with.

  • A Running Theme of Loss: Many Adult Children are that way because they’ve lost their childhood, so they cling to their immaturity under the thin veneer of them becoming adults by changes in physical appearance and literal height growth. However, deep down inside, they feel empty. By clinging to immaturity, they don’t get to relive their childhood; they instead turn into sad children who’ve lost their sense of humor, flexibility, and creativity by their unwillingness to grow up and develop properly. They seek help after being aware of their syndrome because continuing this empty existence is no longer an option to them.

  • A Willingness to Change: The solution to immaturity from a traumatized adult who has gone through a rough childhood by being part of an alcoholic household is to grow up. Many of those suffering from the Child of an Alcoholic Syndrome find it almost impossible to abandon the though of fixing themselves, like a real child would always long to be grown up. Their feeling of clinging onto their lost childhood will ironically be fixed by having them listen to the vestiges of the child in them and what he or she really wants; to grow up finally and do the things he or she wouldn’t normally do.

Dealing with the Consequences of Alcoholism


There are many Adult Children who suffer from Children of Alcoholics Syndrome that lack awareness of how immature they are, how affected they have of the trauma of being raised by an alcoholic, and so forth until they’re faced with conflict. It’s the way they overreact or react destructively with the problems of everyday life that truly shows they haven’t really grown up in several aspects of their health and life. If they feel overwhelmed by life’s problem, they might need to seek help for that specific situation, but a more long-term situation is to help them grow up to be healthier and more responsible adults all-in-all.

An Adult Child or a Child of an Alcoholic should become responsible in spite of their upbringing because they cannot be victims of their past forever. One tendency of these Adult Children is to become their alcoholic parents or guardians. Essentially, they can end up becoming alcoholics, marrying an alcoholic, or both. If this is what has happened then these people will end up undergoing issues with their life through either their own substance abuse or in their personal and business relationships. They’re repeating the cycle of alcoholism they learned from their own father.

To Summarize

As long as things are going on smoothly in the lives of Children of Alcoholics, they should remain fine. If they’re properly sheltered from the problems and responsibilities of every day life, they should be able to avoid breaking down or exposing their childishness. The issue comes when their House of Cards were to fall down whenever they experience crises, controversy, or conflict. They don’t respond like adults. They instead respond childishly, immaturely, or petulantly, with the pettiness of those much younger than they are. This is why they’re known as adult children, manchildren, or womenchildren.

Luckily, those who suffer from both alcoholism and being Children of Alcoholics can depend on the holistic therapy of the Lanna Rehab Center in Chiang Mai, Thailand in order to help both the addict and the adult children of said addict to improve their health and development physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually so that they can recover from their issues. There are a myriad of coping tools and support services available for Adult Children who suffer from Child of Alcoholic Syndrome available in the rehab center.

Learn More about Child of an Alcoholic Syndrome through Lanna Rehab

There are two ways to deal with being a Child of an Alcoholic Syndrome. You can nip the problem in the bud and have the alcoholic father, mother, or guardian attend alcoholism rehab via outpatient programs like Alcoholics Anonymous or inpatient programs such as the affordable Lanna Rehab package. You also have the option to give guidance and therapy to the Adult Children who suffer from this syndrome with psychotherapy techniques like dialectal behavioral therapy (DBT), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), individual therapy, group therapy, counseling, dual diagnosis, 12-step programs, and holistic healing.

Lanna Rehab in Chiang Mai, Thailand is a rehabilitation clinic that takes care of not only the addict himself but also his loved ones affected by his addiction such as alcoholism or drug dependence. Call Lanna at its 24/7 hotline today for more details on reservations and special tourism packages.

Martin Peters

Martin Peters has a BA (Hons) Dip HE Dip RN CSAT III and is the Group Program Director Lanna Healthcare. He is a Registered Nurse and Certified Substance Abuse Therapist working in the mental health field since 1994; Martin has had a wide range of experience in management and supervisory roles within established healthcare systems, and has provided consultancy services to a number of private and public sector organizations in the UK and Asia in terms of management, policy writing, accreditation and recruitment. Martin’s addictions experience has been in developing inpatient services in Thailand since 2009, both clinical and operational. He has been instrumental in expanding and developing a non 12 step inpatient treatment centre and opening a further inpatient centre with a 12 step approach, implementing KIPU Electronic Records, strengthening hospital partnerships, introducing a Scholarship for students under the Masters in Addiction Studies Program at The ASEAN Institute for Health Development and working with an international accreditation body. Martin has also been a speaker at several international conferences on addiction, including ASEAN conferences and has also guest lectured at Mahidol University (Thailand), University of Sarghoda (Pakistan) Institute of Medical Sciences (Pakistan) and has been a representative on the CARF Standards Advisory Committee for 2016.In 2015. Martin became a Co-Founder of Lanna Healthcare, launching Lanna Rehab in March 2016 and opening Jintra in January 2018. In June of 2018, Martin was involved in the merger of Lanna and DARA, becoming Thailand's biggest private licensed operator. Martin is currently a Joint and Asia Health Co Ltd Owner Operator of Lanna Healthcare Co Ltd, which under its umbrella manages Lanna Rehab in Chiang Mai, Jintra Rehab in Chiang Mai and DARA Rehab in Koh Chang - all Thailand MoPH Licensed Addiction Facilities providing world-class treatment in Thailand.

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