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Adult children of alcoholics group

Dear Alice —

Are there any adult children of alcoholics groups on campus?

Signed, Seeking

Dear Seeking, 

Many support groups exist for people who grew up with parents addicted to alcohol — or adult children of alcoholics (ACA), as they’re colloquially known — both off campus and at many schools, on campus. One way to find services is to check out the Adult Children of Alcoholics Service organization — their website offers a search engine to find services nearby. It’s possible there may be some groups near your campus. There are also Al-Anon Family Groups that offer support for spouses/partners, siblings, and children of all ages of family members with alcoholism. SMART Recovery Friends and Family meetings are another option that use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as a foundation for providing support. If you’re looking for groups that are specifically campus-affiliated, another choice may be to check out your school’s mental health services. Some schools offer support groups for students with various identities. You may be able to find ACA groups that fit your needs through this method. Researching some of these options may help determine which group best suits your needs. 

Children who grew up in households that had parents living with substance use disorder often adapted to their situation by learning patterns of interaction and methods of coping that helped them survive in childhood. These patterns may not support their own healthy environment during adulthood. For some, these coping methods may look like: 

  • Avoiding talking about family problems with anyone outside of the family 
  • Taking on roles that aren’t typically expected in children, such as becoming a caregiver for the parent with substance use disorder 
  • Prioritizing the needs of others over their own 
  • Avoiding conflict and having a high tolerance for inappropriate behavior 
  • Seeking approval from others or lying to avoid negative social interactions 

Some ACA may struggle with trusting other people and expressing their emotions and needs. They may also feel ashamed, guilty, and a need to be in control. ACA may be more impulsive and be at higher risk of developing emotional problems or substance use disorders. However, these outcomes for ACA aren’t inevitable. ACA support groups and similar organizations seek to help their members understand how they came to learn old patterns and find ways to overcome them. With support, adult children of alcoholics can and do learn new patterns of coping, relating, and trusting.  

It may be reassuring to remember that adult children of alcoholics aren’t alone, and what they experienced growing up isn’t their fault. In fact, ACA are sometimes referred to as “co-victims,” because they experience similar characteristics to their parents with substance abuse disorder. If you identify as an ACA, in addition to support groups, there are some strategies that may be helpful in your healing journey. Repeating a self-affirming mantra to yourself may also help, such as, “I am in control of my own life,” or, “I am allowed to enjoy things for myself.” You might also consider practicing expressing your emotions, either with friends or through journaling. If these support groups and tips don’t do the trick, you may try speaking with a mental health professional to discuss your experiences individually.  

Good luck finding the support that’s right for you! 

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Last updated Aug 06, 2021
Originally published Sep 01, 1993

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