The “average alcoholic” is not a skid-row “bum”—he or she is a man or woman with a family, job and responsibilities. And 50-60% of those people have, or had, at least one alcoholic parent.

Many of us are affected by alcoholism, but people with alcoholic parents may have an even greater need for understanding the effects of alcohol dependence.

Understanding how this disease has affected their upbringing can help many adult children of alcoholics gain control over their own lives.

Learned Behavior

The alcoholic home is often chaotic, disruptive, and lacking in consistency. Children in alcoholic homes may feel the lack of an “anchor”—a consistent base of support.

Children from an alcoholic family may also learn not to trust, since confidence, reliance, and faith are often lacking in alcoholic homes. They may be unable to depend on their parents and rarely bring friends home, never trusting the situation they will find.

Children of alcoholics also learn a well-developed denial system about what is happening in the home. They try to bring stability to the home but may deny their own anxieties and fears, while attempting to act in a “normal” manner.


In the alcoholic home, children tend to take on various roles — usually as a “defense” mechanism against the disease that is threatening their family. One role is the responsible child who takes care of other members of the family while growing up. As an adult, he or she continues to assume leadership roles and often pursues a very isolated lifestyle.

Another is the role of the adjuster. He or she follows directions, adjusts to circumstances, copes more easily. As adults, adjusters find it easier to shrug off things and withdraw. They become adept at being flexible and spontaneous and may lack a sense of direction and responsibility. They may find mates who are in a constant uproar, since this state of constant agitation perpetuates their childhood.

A third common pattern of a child with a chaotic home life is that of the placater, the family comforter. This child tries to make others feel better as if he is responsible for the pain the family is experiencing. In adult life, this person often tries to “take care” of others, either personally or professionally. In many cases, the adult child of an alcoholic exhibits more than one of these behavior patterns.

Getting Help

Self-help groups exist that provide opportunities for adults to understand alcoholism and how it has affected their lives, and to discover that they are not alone. For additional information and referrals, contact Adult Children of Alcoholics (213) 534-1815, P.O. Box 3216, Torrance, CA 90505.

Support groups can help adult children of alcoholics understand the disease and the effects It has had on their lives.

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