When Adult Children of Alcoholics Become Moms

I talk about how my father’s drinking affected me, but I must remember that my mother grew up with an alcoholic father too. Growing up with addiction is often traumatizing and can lead to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If PTSD related issues remain unresolved, as hers did, they can become a hot button in parenting. Even though she herself did not become an alcoholic, the thinking, feeling and behavior remained.

People don’t realize the extent to which addiction impacts family members, especially the kids. Childhood development is seriously impacted by growing up around the confusion and pain that surrounds addiction. And that trauma stays with them and affects their parenting. My mom’s fight or flight responses were activated over and over again by the disturbing dynamics of growing up in an alcoholic induced environment and she became traumatized by that experience.

That trauma surfaced years later in a post-traumatic stress reaction when she married my father, also an alcoholic. And her unresolved pain showed up as she became an ACoA mother. It showed up in the same way that a car backfiring triggers soldiers because it reminds them of gunfire. The dependency and vulnerability of intimacy also act as triggers for ACoA moms. When children of alcoholics grow up and attempt to create families of their own, the emotional dynamics of close, dependent partner and parent relationships act as primers for what is stored in their memory systems on the subject of “familying.”

ACoAs are oftentimes high achievers; they have been managing on their own for years, so on the surface they can be quite functional and successful. However, their hypervigilance and woundedness can remain hidden underneath defenses that have been in place since childhood.

Understanding my mother as an ACoA mom helps me understand myself as an ACoA. Her old pains have been passed down to my brothers and me but I have a chance to make changes in my life and not continue to be affected by the wounds of my mother’s past.

Hi, I’m Liz Hawkins, and I’m a recovering Adult Child of an Alcoholic.


Source: Dr. Tian Dayton (2015)


Loving someone with ACOA Trauma Syndrome

Some of you may be concerned about how angry, toxic behavior patterns, and poor communication style have affected your lives and love relationships.  Many don’t understand the origin of these behaviors, and can’t change what you don’t understand.

Riana Milne specializes in an area called – ACOA (Adult Child of an Alcoholic) Personality Trauma Syndrome; working with adult clients (and their partners) who suffered trauma as children.  Strangely enough, it is not a condition or a Personality Disorder described in the DSM – IV; the Diagnostic book for Mental Health Therapists.  There is an ACA – Adult Children of Alcoholics 12 step program founded on the belief that family dysfunction is a disease that infected us as children, and affects us as adults.

There are nine categories of trauma:

  1. Having an addicted parent – to drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, porn, pills, etc.
  2. Being emotionally abused
  3. Being verbally abused
  4. Being physically abused, molested, or raped
  5. Being abandoned.
  6. If you were adopted, part of the foster care system, or needed to live with another relative due to family hardship
  7. A sibling had trauma (medical issues, an addiction, or required special care)
  8. You endured personal trauma (bullying, medical issue, a physical challenge)
  9. Family trauma – poverty, many moves due to military, parent incarcerated, loss of home by flood or fire, domestic violence, etc.

Toxic adult relationships and many adult addictions occur due to the aftermath of these childhood traumas.  ACOAs often have successful careers and hold it together on the job; the real dysfunction emerges within their love relationships.  Poor coping mechanisms (like shutting down emotionally if afraid, or just the opposite – yelling and screaming with anger when frustrated, to control or intimidate your partner, or get your needs met) are all ACOA behaviors.  Ongoing anxiety, depression, impulsiveness, signs of extreme stress under normal circumstances, panic attacks, perfectionism of your partner, high sex drive or need for attention from the opposite sex, addictions and feelings of abandonment…are just a few of the faulty behaviors, way of thinking or being, that ACOAs have trouble with.  Adults often try to self-medicate with alcohol, pot, or various pills to calm themselves down, or tolerate their abuse or depression; which often leads to an addiction.

ACOAs often attract an ACOA partner.  Their initial dating is full of intense closeness, dramatic romance, affection, and they seek commitment right away.  This could look like a great start to exclusive dating; however, within 3-6 months, signs of jealousy, control, intimidation and mind-games often enter into their relationship.

This dynamic gets worse with time, so it is important to understand your childhood triggers, how they affect you as an adult, correct them, and properly communicate through arising problems and challenges.

Source: Riana Milne, MA, Certified, Global Relationship, Love & Life Coach, August 3, 2016 #ACoAAwareness