Twelve Steps of Adult Children of Alcoholics
Adult Children of Alcoholics is a twelve step and twelve tradition program aimed at providing a safe place for individuals to share their experiences. The steps and traditions evolved from the Alcoholics Anonymous program that began in the 1930’s. Meetings provide a forum for the acoa to be heard and also to share what is working for them. It can be difficult to relate to the traumatic experience of growing up in an alcoholic home or other dysfunctional family environments. Below are samples of some of the service websites with literature and information about meetings. There are hotlines listed on many of the sites with numbers to call. Telephone, online and in-person meetings are listed. All of this information is beneficial to the adult child.
Understanding the dynamics of the disease of addiction is not an easy task. The alcoholic will have children, who grow up to become the adult children of alcoholics. Not all children of alcoholics become alcoholics themselves. Acoas will find as they join the fellowship common threads. Behaviors reveal themselves in a meeting like they seem to abandon relationships, the unique personality traits and often act out in fear. How they act and feel can create bonds with other acoa. The admissions the acoa make to other members of the fellowship strengthen the bonds of unity. Members will call each other for support. Members regularly attend a meeting which is recommended. In fact, members are encouraged to get a home group; this is a group that you frequent and support. Home groups will hold regular business meetings to ensure the rent is paid, literature is available and the needs of the group are met. As a person progresses in their recovery, more opportunities to be of service will become apparent as any twelve step fellowship benefit tremendously from the efforts of members of the Fellowship. Children of alcoholics may feel unique. The emotional relationships they form can be difficult when they are adults. Acoa may act out in anger, rage or act in fear in some situations when they are triggered. It may be difficult to call upon our friends or family members for support particularly when others might be affected by the same issues. By attending meetings, the intimate bonds allow for fellowship and mutual support while developing healthy boundaries.
People who become dependent on alcohol are often labelled as alcoholic. Excessive drinking is considered a problem by the Center for Disease Control (CDC)1. An advisor in health care may recommend getting help for the disorder. Some people will come to believe they are alcoholic and seek treatment, rehab and psychiatry to help with their problems. Insurance companies are now funding individuals who register as alcoholic and seek recovery if they suffer from the disease of alcoholism. There are lists of questions that can help a person determine if they have an addiction to alcohol which is available on many government websites, healthcare websites treatment centers, and other related websites.
There are treatment options, hospital and psychiatry options. Addiction treatment can create new fear, and cause alcoholics to act out but learning healthy support and healthy boundaries is important to the adult child. Meetings are available in Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and other support groups with some offering open meetings that family can attend. Sadly, some alcoholics want no help whatsoever. The disease, treated or not will shape the personality and affect the emotional relationships of everyone the alcoholic comes into contact with. People will abandon other people in their circle suffering from the disease, and the alcoholic can act out and abandon the people in their circle too.
These questions are from ‘The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’ – To assess whether you or a loved one may have AUD (Alcohol Use Disorder); here are some questions to ask.
In the past year, have you:
- Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer than you intended?
- More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
- Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over the aftereffects?
- Experienced craving — a strong need, or urge, to drink?
- Found that drinking — or being sick from drinking — often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?
- Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
- Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to drink?
- More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unsafe sex)?
- Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having had a memory blackout?
- Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?
- Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, or sweating? Or sensed things that were not there?
Growing up as children of alcoholics, can cause individuals to feel as if they are islands in a sea of people. The unique and often traumatic experiences can affect an individual and shape their ideas of self. Growing up with a parent or other family member who turns to rehab, treatment or psychiatry to help with their alcoholic behaviors may seem to be unusual. The adult child of an alcoholic may not call out for help and this can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness later in life. Meetings provide a place where members can meet and share their experiences, strengths and hopes for a new way to live. Adult children of Alcoholics do not require you register to become a member but simply attending a meeting offers relief. The program is completely autonomous and you self diagnose.
Adult children of Alcoholics (ACOAS) form support groups who hold meetings. Members can become involved in service and may participate in an inter-group to work together in fellowship with other ACOA. These fourteen questions are called “the Laundry List”.’
- 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 any personal 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 life from the viewpoint of victims and we are attracted by that 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 too closely at our own faults, etc.
- We get guilt feelings when we stand up for ourselves instead of giving in to others.
- We became addicted to excitement.
- We confuse love and pity and tend to “love” people 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 (Denial).
- We judge ourselves harshly and have a very low sense of self-esteem.
- We are dependent personalities who are terrified of 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.
- Alcoholism is a family disease; and we became para-alcoholics and took on the characteristics of that disease even though we did not pick up the drink.
- Para-alcoholics are reactors rather than actors.
US and elsewhere
- Adult Children of Alcoholics (sometimes referred to as aca) has resources similar to this (Toronto intergroup, Canada) – https://acatoronto.org/
- Arizona intergroup, US – https://aca-arizona.org/
- Serving PA, NJ, MD and DE ACA Groups, US – https://www.paacaintergroup.com/
- Minnesota ACA Intergroup, US – http://www.adultchildrenmn.com/mn-aca-intergroup/
- European Committee – https://acawsoec.org/
- Greater New York, New Jersey, US – https://www.greaternewyorkaca.org/
- Connecticut, US – https://ct-aca.org/
These recovery service websites are examples of what acoas find in the Adult Children of Alcoholics. There are many other intergroup sites available in other regions of the world.
WSO – World Service Office
Literature is an important part of the aca/acoa program. A list of available literature is available on the wso website but many meetings in a region have formed intergroups as a service to provide local literature. The service website is an important place for the adult child to find a meeting as well. Often these are resources for people in emotional crises seeking help. Best practises is a website dedicated to groups, intergroups and regions to benefit from sharing their experiences. The goal is to create a healthy service structure.
The WSO will work to bring resources to the group as well as providing assistance to adult children of alcoholics just starting their journey. The adult child is often full of fear in seeking help. Picking up the phone to call an advisor or confidant is not always an option. Self diagnoses can result in a call to local hotlines which the wso can list. Regions, intergroups and other service websites will list not just hotlines to call, but also list meetings. Sometimes the most difficult admission is that we need help but when groups, intergroups, regions and global resources work together the fellowship benefits. There are health disorders related to growing up as the child of an alcoholic that affect adults so the benefits to society of these types of programs is beneficial. Breaking the cycle of abuse will significantly improve the health of the entire family.
The European Committee is a standing committee of the WSO and has a link located above. There are many events for members to attend and newsletters also help the fellowship grow and stay connected with a global community. Events can improve the bonds of support the acoa feels and also allow them to strengthen the bonds of service that connect all the groups globally.
- We admitted we were powerless over the effects of alcoholism or other family dysfunction, that our lives had become unmanageable.
- Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand God.
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
- Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- Continued to take personal inventory and, when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
- Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understand God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.
- Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others who still suffer, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
The Twelve Steps are reprinted and adapted from the original Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and are used with the permission of Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.