Good Research Paper On Adult Children Of Alcoholics (Acoa)

Type of paper: Research Paper

Topic: Family, Children, Alcohol Abuse, Parents, Psychology, Adulthood, Alcohol, Behavior

Pages: 7

Words: 1925

Published: 2020/10/16

Humans often transpose old pain and trauma onto newer relationships, which is the emblem of the Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACoA) trauma syndrome. Traumatized people often hope that they can lead normal lives and leave their past behind them, especially when they enter adulthood and become older and wiser. Unfortunately, infantile states of feelings, emotions, and images that people hope to forget or repress are often triggered. Indeed, confronted by an overly critical boss, nitpicky spouse, or a child throwing a tantrum over not getting his or her way, an ACoA becomes irrationally unnerved by their present day circumstances that in a way reflects their childhood past. Often, however, the ACoA is not cognizant of the fact that their scars suffered during their childhood has caused their overreaction, as they become mired in a “mind/body combustion in which pain from the past is potentizing pain in the present. We get tight guts, we hold our breath and we wait ‘for the other shoe to drop’” (Dayton, 2012a). ACoAs often deploy defense mechanisms to deal with the childhood pain they do not fully understand vis-à-vis an implosion or explosion, aggression, or withdrawal. Unresolved pain gets transferred and inherited for generations, and although this confusion and anger can be repressed for years at a time, it never actually goes away and will always manifest itself at some point during an individual’s adult life (Dayton, 2012a). ACoAs thus unequivocally suffer from emotional issues that directly affect an individual’s sociability and economic productivity. Research suggests that ACoAs are most likely to become alcoholics, raise alcoholic and codependent children, suffer from social anxiety, struggle with intimacy, and ultimately suffer from PTSD because they were raised in an unstable, chaotic, and unpredictable home where the ACoA did not learn how to adequately develop coping mechanisms and were taught not to express or discuss their distress and feelings with others. The extent of an ACoA’s behavioral changes resulting from their childhood experiences are nonetheless idiosyncratic, as some of them prove to be better functioning than others. Further research is necessary in order to understand and isolate the factors that underlie this continuum.
Understanding the etiology of the self-perpetuating cycle of alcoholism and ACoA is significant for examining the behavior of ACoAs once they reach adulthood. Kurzeja (2014) contends that alcoholism usually hampers a parent’s ability to properly care for and raise their children and meet their emotional needs, which promotes self-dependence and thus confusion because children do not fully comprehend why their parents chose to deprive them of attention, respect, and tender loving care (Kurzeja, 2014, p. 41). Children who grow up and live in the home of alcoholics experience certain family dynamics that differ from those who do not experience alcoholism as a child. This rudimentary power imbalance within the family structure that empowers parents over their children undergirds children’s belief that they are a reflection of who their parents are. Parents who chastise their children time and again and cause them stress exacerbates a child’s anxiety, fear, and pain because they cannot turn to their parents, who are supposed to be their primary support system, for solace. Thus, children feel disempowered because their entire world is dependent on their parents. Indeed, if a child’s parent is drunk or preoccupies themselves with shunting burgeoning emotional problems from the public eye, the home transforms into a locus that the child associates fear, negative emotions, and stress. Children often react to such an emotionally charged environment and situation by withdrawing and/or disassociating, enduring the berating of their drunk parent, or acquiescing to their parents’ irrational demands. Children often lack external support systems that would help them make meaning of their situation while also reassuring them that they will be normal soon. Thus, immature and lacking intellectual capacity, these children are forced to make meaning of the situation on their own despite their limited ability to process, comprehend, and manage the situation they face in the home as a result of their dependence on their parents(Dayton, 2012b, p. 1). A combination of all of these factors undergirds an ACoA’s childhood trauma and has a trenchant and enduring impact, thereby propelling them to transfer their past trauma to their present, regardless of how many years have elapsed.
Comparing the impact of alcoholism on children versus non-alcoholic parents on their progeny further elucidates that alcoholism influences child development and behavior in significant ways. Hall and Webster (2009) conducted a study that evaluated the effect of multiple stressors during pre-adolescence on succeeding changes amid adult children of alcoholics. This study provides a base comparison of how individuals are affected by stress in alcoholic versus non-alcoholics households, and its effect on children’s mood, social adeptness, and coping abilities. Its conclusions thus support the contention that ACoA’s are more likely to suffer from various social, psychological, and physical problems than those affected by other traumatic experiences in the home and those without experiencing any trauma during childhood. Adult children of alcoholics also tend to show more depressive mood symptoms in comparison to non-ACoAs, and ACoAs also struggle to cope with their depression far more than their non-ACoA counterparts. Klostermann et al. (2011) provide a quantitative study that specifically examines the behaviors of college students based on a screening test. They chose one hundred and thirty six college students catergorized as ACOAs and four hundred and thirty six college students that were rendered non-ACoAs. Results show, as measured by the Profile of Mood States (POMS), that in comparison to those students who did not grow up in a household affected by alcoholism, ACoAs reported far more symptoms associated with depression. Moreover, ACoAs are not taught adequate coping mechanisms for their emotional imbalances. These mechanisms include, but are not limited to: behavior detachment, substance misuse, renunciation, comicalness, and the ability to express feelings. Thus, ACoAs are far more likely to emulate their parents’ behavior and become alcoholics themselves; to raise codependent children; suffer from social anxieties; and suffer from PTSD (Klostermann et al., 2011).
A relatively newer study conducted by Haverfield & Theiss (2014) provides both qualitative and quantitative information concerning how adult children of alcoholics have been affected during adulthood through an analysis of real-world examples. For three months, the researchers, who are trained coders, analyzed posts on online message regarding seven major themes that directly relate to the impact of alcoholic parents on their ACoA progeny. All of these themes—interference of parents in adulthood; empowerment vis-à-vis support; connection to one’s own inner child and desire/need to “re-parent”; insecurity and low self-esteem; anger, hatred, and resentment; struggles with intimacy problems, especially in relationships that are romantic in nature; and communication struggles—were noted as typical behavioral manifestations of ACoAs. The results of the study elucidate the various issues that ACoAs must address throughout their recovery processes (Haverfield & Theiss, 2014, p. 166). It is important to note that it is difficult to know if the information analyzed and conclusions gleaned from online support groups is completely reliable and unbiased because the anonymous nature of the internet enables people to recreate themselves in a certain light. Nonetheless, this study provides a window into the emotional aspects of ACoAs’ experiences, thought processes, fears, self concepts, and self regard. Indeed, the anonymity of the internet can also facilitate the ability of ACoAs to articulate their feelings and confront their past pain without the fear of judgment of them or their parents.
Beyond the emotional and behavioral impact of alcoholic parents on their progeny, ACoAs also suffer from various psychiatric disorders that directly stems from their childhood trauma. Kurzeja (2014) looks at the destructive patterns demonstrated by alcoholic parents and how ACoAs often imitate while also forging harmful relationships in the future. An unstable and chaotic household during childhood promotes economically and emotionally unstable young adults. ACoAs often report symptoms associated with various mental disorders including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), stress and adjustment disorders, anxiety and depression disorders, obsessive compulsive disorders (OCD), somatoform disorders, and specific personality disorders. Unfortunately, the majority of ACoAs do not connect their childhood trauma with their failures and difficulties experienced during their adulthood, so they do not seek therapy to reconcile their painful pasts (Kurzeja, 2014, p. 41). Mahoney (2011) examines if children of alcoholics are more likely to be substance-dependent and substance abusers when they become adults. Indeed, ACoAs often experiment with alcohol and other drugs earlier in life than their non-ACoA counterparts, thereby developing drug and alcohol problems and abusive behavior later on during their adulthood. Having alcoholic parents thus makes a child more vulnerable to substance abuse problems, which can be accelerated by social, emotional, environment and biological pathways. These abusive behaviors are passed on from parents to their children, who use alcohol and drugs as their coping mechanisms for their failures, their pain, their disassociation, and their inability to articulate their feelings. ACoAs can succumb to alcoholic behaviors quickly also because their parents may have exposed them to and/or allowed them to use psychoactive substances early on in their life either directly or indirectly. Adults with active alcohol-dependent parents initiate early abuse of drugs compared to those who did not have alcohol dependent parents (Mahoney, 2011). Thus, ACoAs are most likely of becoming alcoholics, raising alcoholic and codependent children.
Individuals affected by alcoholism unequivocally experience greater social difficulties both in terms of their emotional health and economic productivity. However, some of these individuals develop a sense of themselves that combats these adverse behavioral modifications so evident in the majority of the ACoA population. Hall & Webster (2007) posit that “growing up in an alcoholic home does not necessarily mean an individual will develop problems” (p. 494). Indeed, the resiliency and cognitive abilities of ACoAs reveal that, while family and other environmental influences play a role in a child’s behavior, behavioral problems do not always manifest. Individuals are able to persevere, even if they have been greatly affected by psychological or physical hardships. Empirical studies conducted within ACoA homes underscore the idiosyncrasies in terms of characteristics and understandings in an ACOA home and how differentials render the ACoA experience different and unique for those affected. Easley & Epstein (1991) examine the degree in which alcohol abuse and the psychopathology of ACoAs are connected to the reporting by ACoAs concerning family disruption, individual coping mechanisms, and family coping when the child was living with his or her parent. The researchers found that if families framed the problem of alcohol abuse in a truthful and positive light rather than passively appraising the problem, then better outcomes were reported during the adulthood of the ACoA. Indeed, some ACoAs become well-adjusted during their adult lives. Moreover, the researchers discovered through a reexamination of methodological reviews that ACoA reports of poor coping and adjustment may have been the result of many investigations utilizing samples from certain populations that were in contact with both the mental health system as well as the criminal justice system (Easley & Epstein, 1991, p. 218). Thus, this study addresses the epistemological gaps in ACoA research regarding the coping and adjustment abilities and resiliency in the ACoA population by taking into account moderating variables such as resources available to the community, family, and individual due to factors such as socioeconomic status and cultural values. These variables may account for the idiosyncrasies witnessed in the reporting.
A litany of studies and research underscore the notion that growing up in a household with an alcoholic parent can have an enduring impact on children and contribute to a plethora of challenging end results when they reach adulthood. Indeed, children are sensitive and rely on their parents as their main support system and solace during painful periods in their lives. Alcoholic-dependent parents not only inflict searing emotional pain due to their inability to properly raise and care for their children, but also cause mental and behavioral problems that profoundly impact their children’s ability to function normally in adulthood and forge intimate relationships. Moreover, ACoAs themselves often imitate their parents’ behavior, thereby perpetuating this vicious cycle. Unfortunately, the majority of ACoAs do not recognize that their childhood trauma and pain directly correlates with their failures in adulthood. As a result, very few of them seek professional help and therapy to reconcile their painful pasts with their present-day circumstances and behavior. Many people turn to online support groups for help. While the literature on ACoAs emphasizes the negative outcomes of growing up in a household with an alcoholic parent, there is a burgeoning episteme that focuses on a subgroup of ACoAs who manage to adjust their behaviors and mental states during their adult lives. Nonetheless, more research must be conducted in order to fully understand and highlight the devastating impact substance abuse can have on family dynamics and family functioning. Raising public awareness about this sensitive issue may also contribute to ACoAs seeking professional help before they imitate the behaviors of their parents during their adult lives.


Dayton, T. (2012a). The ACoA Trauma Syndrome: What is an ACoA? Retrieved January 25, 2015, from
Dayton, T. (2012b). The ACoA trauma syndrome: The impact of childhood pain on adult relationships. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications.
Easley, M.J. & Epstein, N. (1991). Coping with stress in a family with an alcoholic parent. Family Relations, 40(2), 218-224.
Hall, C. W., & Webster, R. E. (2007). Risk factors among adult children of alcoholics. International Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy, 3(4), 494-511. Retrieved from
Hall, C. W., & Webster, R. E. (2009). Multiple stressors and adjustment among adult children of alcoholics. Addiction Research & Theory, 15(4), 425-434. doi:10.1080/16066350701261865
Haverfield, M. C., & Theiss, J. A. (2014). A theme analysis of experiences reported by adult children of alcoholics in online support forums. Journal of Family Studies, 20(2), 166-184. doi: 10.5172/jfs.2014.20.2.166
Klostermann, K., Chen, R., Kelley, M. L., Schroeder, V. M., Braitman, A. L., & Mignone, T. (2011). Coping behavior and depressive symptoms in adult children of alcoholics. Substance Use & Misuse, 46(9), 1162-8. doi: 10.3109/10826080903452546
Kurzeja, A. (2014). An alcoholic family and its harmful effects on children. Current Problems of Psychiatry, 15(1), 41-45. Retrieved from,d.eXY
Mahony, D. (2011). Children of alcoholics are more likely to abuse substances. Teen Drug Abuse. In D.E. Nelson, Opposing Viewpoints. Teen Drug Abuse. Detroit: Greenhaven Press. (Reprinted by Building Resilience in Children of Alcoholics, Clinical Psychiatry News, p. 30, 2009, January) Retrieved from

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