What is ACA?

Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA) is a Twelve Step, Twelve Tradition program of men and women who grew up in alcoholic or otherwise dysfunctional homes. The ACA program was founded on the belief that family dysfunction is a disease that infected us as children and continues to affect us as adults. Our membership also includes adults from homes where alcohol or drugs were not present; however, abuse, neglect or unhealthy behavior was.

We meet to share our experience and recovery in an atmosphere of mutual respect. We discover how alcoholism and other family dysfunction affected us in the past and how it influences us in the present. We begin to see the unhealthy elements of our childhood. By practicing the Twelve Steps, focusing on the ACA Solution, and accepting a loving Higher Power of our own understanding, we find freedom.

Open each of these expanding sections to learn more about ACA.

What is ACA

The following questions will help you decide if alcoholism or other family dysfunction existed in your family. If your parents did not drink, your grandparents may have drank and passed on the disease of family dysfunction to your parents. If alcohol or drugs were not a problem, your home may have been chaotic, unsafe, and lacking nurture like many alcoholic homes.

The following questions offer an insight into some ways children are affected by growing up with a problem drinker even years after leaving the home. The questions also apply to adults growing up in homes where food, sex, workaholism, or ultra-religious abuse occurred. Foster children, now adults, relate to many of these questions.

  1. Do you recall anyone drinking or taking drugs or being involved in some other behavior that you now believe could be dysfunctional?
  2. Did you avoid bringing friends to your home because of drinking or some other dysfunctional behavior in the home?
  3. Did one of your parents make excuses for the other parent’s drinking or other behaviors?
  4. Did your parents focus on each other so much that they seemed to ignore you?
  5. Did your parents or relatives argue constantly?
  6. Were you drawn into arguments or disagreements and asked to choose sides with one parent or relative against another?
  7. Did you try to protect your brothers or sisters against drinking or other behavior in the family?
  8. As an adult, do you feel immature?  Do you feel like you are a child inside?
  9. As an adult, do you believe you are treated like a child when you interact with your parents?  Are you continuing to live out a childhood role with the parents?
  10. Do you believe that it is your responsibility to take care of your parents’ feelings or worries? Do other relatives look to you to solve their problems?
  11. Do you fear authority figures and angry people?
  12. Do you constantly seek approval or praise but have difficulty accepting a compliment when one comes your way?
  13. Do you see most forms of criticism as a personal attack?
  14. Do you over-commit yourself and then feel angry when others do not appreciate what you do?
  15. Do you think you are responsible for the way another person feels or behaves?
  16. Do you have difficulty identifying feelings?
  17. Do you focus outside yourself for love or security?
  18. Do you involve yourself in the problems of others?  Do you feel more alive when there is a crisis?
  19. Do you equate sex with intimacy?
  20. Do you confuse love and pity?
  21. Have you found yourself in a relationship with a compulsive or dangerous person and wonder how you got there?
  22. Do you judge yourself without mercy and guess at what is normal?
  23. Do you behave one way in public and another way at home?
  24. Do you think your parents had a problem with drinking or taking drugs?
  25. Do you think you were affected by the drinking or other dysfunctional behavior of your parents or family?
If you answered yes to three or more of these questions, you may be suffering from the effects of growing up in an alcoholic or other dysfunctional family.  As the Laundry List states, you can be affected even if you did not take a drink. From pages 18-20 of the ACA Fellowship Text, also known as the Big Red Book, or BRB.

Excerpts from Fellowship text (BRB) ©Adult Children of Alcoholics®/World Service Organization. All rights reserved.

Many of us found that we had several characteristics in common as a result of being brought up in an alcoholic or dysfunctional household. We had come to feel isolated and uneasy with other people, especially authority figures. To protect ourselves, we became people-pleasers, even though we lost our own identities in the process. All the same we would mistake any personal criticism as a threat. We either became alcoholics (or practiced other addictive behavior) ourselves, or married them, or both. Failing that, we found other compulsive personalities, such as a workaholic, to fulfill our sick need for abandonment.

We lived life from the standpoint of victims. Having an overdeveloped sense of responsibility, we preferred to be concerned with others rather than ourselves. We got guilt feelings when we stood up for ourselves rather than giving in to others. Thus, we became reactors, rather than actors, letting others take the initiative. We were dependent personalities, terrified of abandonment, willing to do almost anything to hold on to a relationship in order not to be abandoned emotionally. Yet we kept choosing insecure relationships because they matched our childhood relationship with alcoholic or dysfunctional parents.

These symptoms of the family disease of alcoholism or other dysfunction made us ‘co-victims’, those who take on the characteristics of the disease without necessarily ever taking a drink. We learned to keep our feelings down as children and kept them buried as adults. As a result of this conditioning, we confused love with pity, tending to love those we could rescue. Even more self-defeating, we became addicted to excitement in all our affairs, preferring constant upset to workable relationships.

This is a description, not an indictment.

Adapted from The Laundry List, taken from ACA Literature’s The Problem

Excerpts from Fellowship text (BRB) ©Adult Children of Alcoholics®/World Service Organization. All rights reserved.

The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions are reprinted and adapted from the original Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous.

The solution is to become your own loving parent

As ACA becomes a safe place for you, you will find freedom to express all the hurts and fears you have kept inside and to free yourself from the shame and blame that are carryovers from the past. You will become an adult who is imprisoned no longer by childhood reactions. You will recover the child within you, learning to accept and love yourself.

The healing begins when we risk moving out of isolation. Feelings and buried memories will return. By gradually releasing the burden of unexpressed grief, we slowly move out of the past. We learn to re-parent ourselves with gentleness, humor, love and respect.

This process allows us to see our biological parents as the instruments of our existence. Our actual parent is a Higher Power whom some of us choose to call God. Although we had alcoholic or dysfunctional parents, our Higher Power gave us the Twelve Steps of Recovery.

This is the action and work that heals us: we use the Steps; we use the meetings; we use the telephone. We share our experience, strength, and hope with each other. We learn to restructure our sick thinking one day at a time. When we release our parents from responsibility for our actions today, we become free to make healthful decisions as actors, not reactors. We progress from hurting, to healing, to helping. We awaken to a sense of wholeness we never knew was possible.

By attending these meetings on a regular basis, you will come to see parental alcoholism or family dysfunction for what it is: a disease that infected you as a child and continues to affect you as an adult. You will learn to keep the focus on yourself in the here and now. You will take responsibility for your own life and supply your own parenting.

You will not do this alone. Look around you and you will see others who know how you feel. We will love and encourage you no matter what. We ask you to accept us just as we accept you.

This is a spiritual program based on action coming from love. We are sure that as the love grows inside you, you will see beautiful changes in all your relationships, especially with God, yourself, and your parents.

Taken from ACA Literature’s The Solution

Excerpts from Fellowship text (BRB) ©Adult Children of Alcoholics®/World Service Organization. All rights reserved.

14 Traits of an Adult Child of an Alcoholic

  1. We became isolated and afraid of people and authority figures.
  2. We became approval seekers and lost our identity in the process.
  3. We are frightened by angry people and any personal criticism.
  4. We either become alcoholics, marry them, or both, or find another compulsive personality such as a workaholic to fulfill our sick abandonment needs.
  5. We live life from the viewpoint of victims and are attracted by that weakness in our love and friendship relationships.
  6. 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.
  7. We get guilt feelings when we stand up for ourselves instead of giving in to others.
  8. We become addicted to excitement.
  9. We confuse love and pity and tend to “love” people we can “pity” and “rescue”.
  10. 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).
  11. We judge ourselves harshly and have a very low sense of self-esteem.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. Para-alcoholics are reactors rather than actors.

The Laundry List is the basis for The Problem.

Excerpts from Fellowship text (BRB) ©Adult Children of Alcoholics®/World Service Organization. All rights reserved.

The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions are reprinted and adapted from the original Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous.

  1. We will discover our real identities by loving and accepting ourselves.
  2. Our self-esteem will increase as we give ourselves approval on a daily basis.
  3. Fear of authority figures and the need to “people-please” will leave us.
  4. Our ability to share intimacy will grow inside us.
  5. As we face our abandonment issues, we will be attracted by strengths and become more tolerant of weaknesses.
  6. We will enjoy feeling stable, peaceful, and financially secure.
  7. We will learn how to play and have fun in our lives.
  8. We will choose to love people who can love and be responsible for themselves.
  9. Healthy boundaries and limits will become easier for us to set.
  10. Fears of failure and success will leave us, as we intuitively make healthier choices.
  11. With help from our ACA support group, we will slowly release our dysfunctional behaviors.
  12. Gradually, with our Higher Power’s help, we will learn to expect the best and get it.

Taken from ACA Literature’s The Promises

Excerpts from Fellowship text (BRB) ©Adult Children of Alcoholics®/World Service Organization. All rights reserved.

. . . With affirmations, we begin to challenge the Inner Critical Parent. We learn to give ourselves a break. BRB pg. 329

Affirmations to be Repeated Each Day, BRB pg. 329

  1. It is okay to know who I am.
  2. It is okay to trust myself.
  3. It is okay to say I am an adult child.
  4. It is okay to know another way to live.
  5. It is okay to say no without feeling guilty.
  6. It is okay to give myself a break.
  7. It is okay to cry when I watch a movie or hear a song.
  8. My feelings are okay even if I am still learning how to distinguish them.
  9. It is okay to not take care of others when I think.
  10. It is okay to feel angry.
  11. It is okay to have fun and celebrate.
  12. It is okay to make mistakes and learn.
  13. It is okay to not know everything.
  14. It is okay to say, “I don’t know”.
  15. It is okay to ask someone to show me how to do things.
  16. It is okay to dream and have hope.
  17. It is okay to think about things differently than my family.
  18. It is okay to explore and say, “I like this or I like that”.
  19. It is okay to detach with love.
  20. It is okay to seek my own Higher Power.
  21. It is okay to reparent myself with thoughtfulness.
  22. It is okay to say, “I love myself”.
  23. It is okay to work an ACA program.

Affirmations for Your Inner Child, BRB pg. 328

  1. I love my Inner Child unconditionally.
  2. I will protect my Inner Child to the best of my ability.
  3. I will take time to listen to my Inner Child and to follow through on promises.
  4. I will integrate my Inner Child into my life through play, creativity, and spirituality.
  5. I will take time to become my own Loving Parent.

Affirmations for Sponsees (These can also apply to the Sponsor), BRB pg. 386

  1. I can ask for help without feeling like I am a burden.
  2. I am treating others with respect and expect others to treat me with respect.
  3. I can be equal in a relationship with another person.
  4. I am capable of selecting a healthy sponsor.
  5. I have willingness to do whatever it takes to recover.
  6. I am following the suggestions of my sponsor in my path of recovery.

Affirmations for Sponsors (These can also apply to the Sponsee), BRB pg. 386

  1. I have something to offer another person.
  2. I can help someone with what I have learned in recovery.
  3. I will share my experience instead of giving advice.
  4. I will avoid “fixing” others or rescuing others.
  5. I can help another ACA regardless of the type of abuse we experienced as children.
  6. I am more alike than I am different from another person.

 Excerpts from Fellowship text (BRB) ©Adult Children of Alcoholics®/World Service Organization. All rights reserved.