Adult Children of Alcoholics & Codependency

Similarities & Differences

Because many people confuse codependency / Self-Love Deficit Disorder with Adult Children of Alcoholics, Ross created this video to straighten things out. In it he explains the differences between ACOA (ACA’s) and SLD’s (Codependents). As much as there are similarities and common traits, these two groups are quite different.

Adult Children of Alcoholics

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ACA (Adult Children of Alcoholics) is as a designation for a person who was raised in a family in which there was an alcoholic parent. Their children were subjected to neglect, abandonment, and abuse, because of their addiction. A person with SLDD (Self-Love Deficit Disorder) or codependency, is the caretaker or caregiver. They hope that they will be reciprocated, they never are, but stay in the relationship. So they are two different types of individuals and there are differences.

The ACA was subjected to a father or a mother who was an alcoholic and often, another parent who was a co-addict. An addict or an alcoholic has all sorts of psychological, personal and social deficits. Also judgment problems, insight problems, problems with the law, work, relationships, and families. Because they choose the drug that they are addicted to, over their loved ones.

A child raised by a parent who is an alcoholic, more than likely lived in a family environment with chaos, unpredictability, abuse (physical, emotional, verbal), neglect and abandonment. It is nearly impossible for a person who is in the throes of alcoholism to meet the needs of their children or their family. The addiction is so strong that the addict is going to choose the alcohol before anything else.

The results are disastrous, for the ones raised in a family with an alcoholic. Especially when very young and during the critical stages of development which we call the attachment stages. It is impossible for a child to be raised in a healthy, loving, predictable family, when one parent is a chronic alcoholic.

Someone who identifies as an Adult Children of Alcoholics is a person who carries psychological, social, and emotional impairment because of the harm that they experienced. There are numerous possibilities of how someone’s attachment trauma will impact them later as an adult. There are angry ACAs, because when they were children that abuse, neglect and harm resulted in an angry and resentful disposition. Or, there are passive ACAs, who learn to disassociate, or to disconnect. They found that by not feeling or not thinking about the harm or through active imagination, they could survive. There are so many other potential outcomes.

Additionally, there are different forms of alcoholic and that is why understanding ACAs is challenging. There is such a range of possibilities. There are quiet, disconnected, and neglectful alcoholics and the harm from that is just unfathomable. In fact it’s been my experience that the harm from neglect and abandonment far exceeds the harm from abuse. It is not what happened that determines the extent of the harm, it is the experience of it. A child can be yelled at and physically abused, but there can be moments when the parent is loving, laughs and plays. But the alcoholic parent who is quiet, who isolates, then the child experiences more deprivation, neglect, and abandonment.

A co-addict is the partner of the addict and is an equally nebulous and vague description just as an ACA is. . It doesn’t mean they are codependents, it just means they are choosing to stay in a relationship with the addict for all sorts of reasons. More often than not, they cover for the addict and take care of the addict. Chemical dependency or alcoholism does not discriminate. A person can be an SLD/codependent and be an alcoholic, can be a narcissist and an alcoholic. There are many varieties.

There are also similarities that exist with all ACAs. All of them were brought up with unpredictability, chaos and often fear. A parent who was unable to nurture and take care of them because of the internal chaos of their alcoholism. ACAs, like SLDs/codependents have psychological problems, have attachment trauma for which psychotherapy is extremely beneficial. There are also 12-step groups, like Adult Children of Alcoholics which is very helpful for survivors of any age of an alcoholic parent.

ACAs is not the same as codependency. Personality type, introversion versus extroversion, addictions, mental illness, habits, they are all independent of SLD/codependency. Codependency is a very specific problem, it is more specific than someone who is an Adult Child of Alcoholics. An ACA can be a codependent, an ACA can be a narcissist, an ACA can be neither. An ACA experienced attachment trauma because of their early childhood experiences and their family.

In conclusion, both SLDs/codependents and Adult Children of Alcoholics, were raised in chaotic families. Both carry the wounds of a troubled and difficult childhood. But what manifests later in their adulthood and its impact on them psychologically, emotionally and relational is far different.

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By Ross Rosenberg, M.Ed, LCPC, CADC
PsychotherapistAuthorEducatorExpert Witness

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Ross Rosenberg

Ross Rosenberg, M.Ed., LCPC, CADC, CSAT, is an international codependency, narcissism, trauma, and sex& love addictions expert who provides psychotherapy, training and consultation services. Ross is a keynote speaker and trainer, presenting in 27 states and 3 countries. He owns Advanced Clinical Trainers and Clinical Care Consultants, an Arlington Heights IL counseling center. He wrote the best-selling book, "The Human Magnet Syndrome: Why We Love People Who Hurt Us." Ross’s YouTube channel contains 75 instructional/educational videos, which have over 2.6 million views and amassed 24,000 subscribers. He has been on ABC Late Night, a ABC "Swiped" documentary, Fox News and WGN News. His work has been featured in the Chicago Tribune & Publishers Weekly and he blogs for The Huffington Post, &

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