Adult Children of Alcoholics

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Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA or ACOA) is an organization intended to provide a forum for individuals who desire to recover from the effects of growing up in an alcoholic or otherwise dysfunctional family. ACA membership has few formal requirements. ACA does not receive any outside economic contributions and is supported by donations from its members. The organization is not related to any particular religion and has no political affiliation.

History and growth[edit]

ACA/ACOA was originally named "Post Teen" in Mineola, Long Island in 1973. Tony A. was among its founders. The ACA framework is based on the 12 steps and 12 traditions of AA.[1]

The organization's name is often ascribed to Janet G. Woititz (c. 1939 - June 7, 1994), an American psychologist and researcher best known for her writings and lectures on the adult children of alcoholic parents, and author of the 1983 book Adult Children of Alcoholics.[2][3][4]

The term ACoA was also extended to include PTSD by Tian Dayton PhD, specifically in her book The ACoA Trauma Syndrome.In it she describes how pain from childhood emerges and gets played out in adulthood, for the ACoA, as a post traumatic stress reaction. Childhood pain that has remained relatively dormant for decades can be re-stimulated or "triggered" by the dynamics of intimacy. "Just as a car backfiring triggers a soldier into unconscious memories of gunfire, when the ACoA grows up and enters the intimate relationships of partnering and parenting, the very vulnerability, dependency and closeness of those relationships can trigger unhealed and unconscious pain from childhood."

During the 1990s, the organization went through rapid growth. In 1989, there were 1,300 ACA meetings and by 2003 there were an estimated 40,000 members of ACA.[5][6] In 2014, there were 1,300 groups worldwide, about 780 of these in the USA.

ACA is more of a therapeutic program which emphasizes taking care of the self and re-parenting one's own wounded inner child with love. It aims to build oneself up, assumes personal responsibility by unequivocally standing up for one's right to a healthy life and actively works on the changes necessary to achieving it. The collective stance is not to wallow in "being a victim" but to move into the practical application of seeing family dysfunction as a generational affliction and a pattern that can be healed.

Through fellowship and the support of ACA's sponsors and peers, as well as the literature, members come to learn that even the most wounded of them has an inner child worthy of love and healing. The crux of the community and its mindfulness comes from honest accounts of struggles and sincere compassion towards these.


ACA is organized along the lines of 12 steps[7] and 12 traditions[8]. Regarding how, when and where meetings[9] are held and led, ACA works the same way as AA.

"The vast majority of ACAs meet[9] informally, in school classrooms or church halls, in the evenings or over weekends. Few frequent expensive treatment centres. They are sympathetic to, but not part of, the AA movement. They meet in leaderless groups, pooling their resources of experience and insight, and reading relevant literature to deepen those assets. For an ACA, this support group provides the extended family and unconditional support which he or she never experienced. The group further provides practical help in acquiring everyday interpersonal and coping skills, and, with them, the sense of self-efficacy—a basic need, as Peele says. The group also provides a sense of community, a community of interest which there are few neighbourhood groups nowadays to provide. This sense of community is another basic need, as Peele argues. Membership comes from a felt need, not as a life sentence. AA puts it simply: 'People need people.'"[10]

ACA program[edit]

What is the problem[11]: "By attending these meetings[9] 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."[12]

The goal of working the program is emotional sobriety.[1]

In 2006, ACA published a book[13] of 646 pages, describing in details what the program is and how it works.

The 12 steps[edit]

ACA offers a program to recover from the effects of growing up in an alcoholic or otherwise dysfunctional family. This program is known as the 12 steps. The program is used by other fellowships, mainly Alcoholics Anonymous.


"Around AA groups different subgroups have formed to support the families: Al-Anon ... Alateen ... as well as groups for the adult child, ACoA. Discovering not being alone with one's problems is often a great help for these youths, and the contact with other youths with the same worries can help them get out of minimizing and denying the problem."[14]

Dr. Janet G. Woititz, author of Adult Children of Alcoholics, endorsed the ACA.[15]

November, 1985 "ACA celebrated its one-year anniversary as an official organization in Southern California. But ACA meetings have been taking place on an informal basis in Los Angeles for more than five years, helping some of the estimated 50 million adults who come from homes of alcoholics. ACA may often be referred to through therapists and local meetings can be found through a brief online search.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Adult Children of Alcoholics Support Groups: A valuable adjunct in treating clients; Martin R. Smith, Gladys T. Patterson; 1992.
  2. ^ Wolfgang Saxon (June 14, 1994). "Janet G. Woititz, 55, Author Who Studied Alcoholics' Children". The New York Times. Retrieved June 3, 2015.
  3. ^ Janet G. Woititz (1983). Adult Children of Alcoholics: Expanded Edition. Health Communications. ISBN 978-1-55874-112-6.
  4. ^ Saxon, Wolfgang. "Janet G. Woititz, 55, Author Who Studied Alcoholics' Children", The New York Times, June 14, 1994. Retrieved October 10, 2013. "Dr. Janet G. Woititz, a best-selling author, lecturer and counselor to the troubled offspring of alcoholics, died last Thursday at her home in Roseland, N.J. She was 55."
  5. ^ "The ACOA marketplace" (Lily Collet: The pseudonym of a Mill Valley, California writer whose work has been published in the New Yorker, Mother Jones, The Washington Post, and elsewhere), The Family Therapy Networker (Editor: Richard Simon, PhD), January/February 1990, p31.
  6. ^ Self-help organizations for alcohol and drug problems: Toward evidence-based practice and policy; Keith Humphreys et al; Journal of substance abuse treatment 26 (2004);
  7. ^ "Steps - Adult Children of Alcoholics & Dysfunctional Families".
  8. ^ "Traditions - Adult Children of Alcoholics & Dysfunctional Families".
  9. ^ a b c [1]
  10. ^ The Adult Children of Alcoholics movement: Help for the unseen victims of alcoholism. By: Carney, T.F., Guidance & Counseling, 08315493, May91, Vol. 6, Issue 5
  11. ^ "Problem - Adult Children of Alcoholics & Dysfunctional Families".
  12. ^ "Solution - Adult Children of Alcoholics & Dysfunctional Families".
  13. ^ "ACA Fellowship Text". 7 April 2012.
  14. ^ It will never happen to me - Growing Up With Addiction As Youngsters, Adolescents, Adults; Chapter 8, Resources; Claudia Black, Ph. D. (Quoted and translated from the Swedish translation of the book)
  15. ^ Dr. Woititz's doctoral dissertation was on The Self Esteem of Children of Alcoholics. Dr. Janet Geringer Woititz obtained her Doctorate in Education from Rutgers University.
  16. ^ Jim Crogan, `I thought I left it all behind me when I left my parents' house. But I was wrong.' Children of Alcoholics Put Painful Pasts Behind Them; Los Angeles Times; November 21, 1985.

External links[edit]