Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Further Characteristics

A bit of a twist on the "Characteristics" with added insights.

As reprinted from:

1. We became isolated and afraid of people and authority figures;

2. We became approval seekers and lost our own identity in the process;

3. We are frightened by angry people and personal criticism;

4. We either became alcoholics, married them, or found another compulsive personality, such as a workaholic, to fulfill our need for and expectation of abandonment;

5. We live life from the viewpoint of helping and seeking victims, and we are attracted by that weakness in our relationships;

6. We have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility, and it is easier for us to be concerned with others rather than with ourselves;

7. We suffer guilt feelings when we stand up for ourselves; instead, we give in to others;

8. We confuse love with pity and tend to "love" people we can pity and rescue;

9. We have suppressed our feelings from our traumatic childhoods and have lost the ability to feel or to honestly express our feelings. Rationalization seems far easier;

10. We judge ourselves harshly and have a very low sense of self-esteem. We sometimes compensate for this sense of inferiority by trying to appear superior;

11. We are dependent personalities who are terrified of abandonment. We will do anything to hold on to a relationship in order not to experience the pain of abandonment;

12. We became para-alcoholic, taking on the characteristics of alcoholism even though we did not pick up the drink;

13. We became compulsive and obsessive in our behavior;

14. We are unknowingly trying to recreate the chaotic lifestyle with which we are familiar;

15. We are afraid of intimacy and have difficulty forming close intimate relationships;

16. We became aware of feelings which seem to separate us from others, and we find ourselves depressed. Depression is endemic in dysfunctional families.

Copyright 2002 Janet Geringer Woititz

Check out our website at:

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

How Many COAs Are There?

In the January 2000 issue of the American Journal of Public Health, an article appears with new estimates of the number of children of alcoholics. Using data from the 1992 National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiological Survey, the NIAAA authors found that 15% of all U.S. children were currently exposed to alcohol abuse and/or dependence in the family (which includes any adults living in the household), and 43% of all children were exposed to someone who, during their lifetime, satisfied a diagnosis of alcohol abuse or dependence.

Assuming that the best estimate lies between these two extremes, it was determined that approximately 1 in 4 children in the US is exposed to alcohol abuse and/or dependence in the family at some point before age 18.

This is just the latest in a long line of studies on this issue. The first estimates of the number of children of alcoholics were developed in 1974 by Booz-Allen and Hamilton, who suggested extrapolating national survey data on problem drinking to the U.S. population and multiplying the resulting estimate of adult problem drinkers by the ratio of adults to children in the general population.

It should also be kept in mind that the data do not include alcoholics who are in the military, institutionalized, homeless, or who may have refused to participate in the survey. Given these caveats, it was estimated that there were approximately 6,600,000 children of alcoholics under the age of 18 years in the U.S. at that time.

Check out our website at:

Saturday, January 13, 2007



Subject: Children of alcoholics Date: 28 Dec 1994
Copyright 1994 Health ResponseAbility Systems, Collective Work & Database

An estimated 6.6 million children under the age of 18 years live in households with at least one alcoholic parent (1). Current research findings suggest that these children are at risk for a range of cognitive, emotional, and behavioral problems.

In addition, genetic studies indicate that alcoholism tends to run in families and that a genetic vulnerability for alcoholism exists (2,3,4). Yet, some investigators also report that many children from alcoholic homes develop neither psychopathology nor alcoholism.

This Alcohol Alert focuses on three major research questions concerning children of alcoholics (COAs):

1. What contributes to resilience in some COAs?

2. Do COAs differ from children of nonalcoholics (nonCOAs)?

3. Are the differences specifically related to parental alcoholism, or are they similar to characteristics observed in children whose parents have other illnesses?

While research findings suggest that some children suffer negative consequences due to parental alcoholism, a larger proportion of COAs function well and do not develop serious problems.

In a longitudinal study of COAs born on the island of Kauai, Werner (5) reported that, although 41 percent of the children developed serious coping problems by 18 years of age, 59 percent did not develop problems.

These resilient children shared several characteristics that contributed to their success, including the ability to obtain positive attention from other people, adequate communication skills, average intelligence, a caring attitude, a desire to achieve, and a belief in self-help.

Studies comparing COAs and nonCOAs have suggested that, although the two groups differ in a variety of psychosocial areas, differences in cognitive performance are observed most frequently.

Cognitive function in COAs has been examined by many researchers because it is an important element needed for adaptation at all stages of development; it can be measured uniformly across developmental stages; and it often is associated with the symptoms of alcoholism.

Ervin and her colleagues (6) found that Full IQ, performance (a measure of abstract and conceptual reasoning), and verbal scores were lower among a sample of children raised by alcoholic fathers than among children raised by nonalcoholic fathers.

Gabrielli and Mednick (7) reported similar results for verbal and Full IQ tests, but not for performance tests.

In a study comparing COAs and nonCOAs whose families were educated and whose parents lived in the home, Bennett and colleagues (8) found that children from alcoholic families had lower IQ, arithmetic, reading, and verbal scores. Despite the lower scores, however, COAs performed within normal ranges for intelligence tests in each of these studies.

It is important to note that cognitive competence can vary with the instrument used to measure performance as well as with the individual who is evaluating function. Johnson and Rolf (9) compared the academic abilities and cognitive function of COAs and nonCOAs from nondisadvantaged backgrounds and found no differences between the groups.

The investigators noted, however, that the children with alcoholic parents underestimated their own competence. In addition, the mothers of COAs underrated their children's abilities. The mother's and children's perceptions of abilities may affect the children's motivation, self-esteem, and future performance.

School-aged children of alcoholic parents often have academic problems. Academic performance may be a better measure than IQ of the effect of living with an alcoholic parent. School records indicate that COAs experience such academic difficulties as repeating grades, failing to graduate from high school, and requiring referrals to school psychologists (10,11).

Although cognitive deficits in COAs may account, in part, for their poor academic performance, motivational difficulties or the stress of the home environment also may contribute to their problems in school. Studies comparing COAs with nonCOAs also have found that parental alcoholism is linked to a number of psychological disorders in children.

Divorce, parental anxiety or affective disorders, or undesirable changes in the family or in life situations can add to the negative effect of parental alcoholism on children's emotional functioning (12,13). The results of several studies have shown that children from alcoholic families report higher levels of depression and anxiety and exhibit more symptoms of generalized stress (i.e., low self-esteem) than do children from nonalcoholic families (12,13,14,15).

In addition, COAs often express a feeling of lack of control over their environment. A recent study by Rolf and colleagues (16) noted that COAs show more depressive affect than nonCOAs and that their self-reports of depression are measured more frequently on the extreme end of the scale.

Moos and Billings (13) found that the emotional stress of parental drinking on children lessens when parents stop drinking. These investigators assessed emotional problems in children from families of relapsed alcoholics, children from families with a recovering parent, and children from families with no alcohol problem. Although the children of relapsed alcoholics reported higher levels of anxiety and depression than children from the homes with no alcohol problem, emotional functioning was similar among the children of recovering and normal parents.

Finally, children from homes with alcoholic parents often demonstrate behavioral problems. Study findings suggest that these children exhibit such problems as lying, stealing, fighting, truancy, and school behavior problems, and they often are diagnosed as having conduct disorders (17).

Teachers have rated COAs as significantly more overactive and impulsive than nonCOAs (11,18). COAs also appear to be at greater risk for delinquency and school truancy (12,19,20). Several investigators have reported an association between the incidence of diagnosed conduct disorders and parental alcohol abuse (21,22,23). However, other problems associated with alcoholism (e.g., depression among the alcoholic parents and divorce) also may contribute to conduct problems and disorders among COAs.

The alcoholic family's home environment and the manner in which family members interact may contribute to the risk for the problems observed among COAs. Although alcoholic families are a heterogeneous group, some common characteristics have been identified. Families of alcoholics have lower levels of family cohesion, expressiveness, independence, and intellectual orientation and higher levels of conflict compared with nonalcoholic families (13,24,25,26).

Some characteristics, however, are not specific to alcoholic families: Impaired problem-solving ability and hostile communication are observed both in alcoholic families and in families with problems other than alcohol (27). Moreover, the characteristics of families with recovering alcoholic members and of families with no alcoholic members do not differ significantly, suggesting that a parent's continued drinking may be responsible for the disruption of family life in an alcoholic home (13).

The family environment also may affect transmission of alcoholism to COAs. Children with alcoholic parents are less likely to become alcoholics as adults when their parents consistently set and follow through on plans and maintain such rituals as holidays and regular mealtimes (28).

Interestingly, the problems of COAs may not be specific to this population. In a review of research on children whose mothers were schizophrenic, Garmezy (29) reported that, like COAs, these children had cognitive deficits. In particular, they had a limited ability to maintain attention and to perceive relevant stimuli.

Children at high risk for schizophrenia revealed a more negative self-image. The family environment also may influence the risk for schizophrenia; children of schizophrenic parents - whose home environment is turbulent - have an increased risk for developing schizophrenia.

Research on COAs is still in its infancy. Many studies suggest that a variety of differences exist between children of alcoholics and children of nonalcoholics and these differences occur at all ages. However, because of the limitations of the methodology and the inadequate number of comprehensive studies, research findings cannot be generalized to all children who grow up with alcoholic parents.


(1) RUSSELL, M.; Henderson, C.; and Blume, S.B. Children of Alcoholics: A Review of the Literature. New York: Children of Alcoholics Foundation, Inc., 1984.

(2) KAIJ, L. Alcoholism in Twins. Studies on the Etiology and Sequels of Abuse of Alcohol. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell Publishers, 1960.

(3) CLONINGER, C.R.; Bohman, M.; and Sigvardsson, S. Inheritance of alcohol abuse. Archives of General Psychiatry 38:861-868, 1981.

(4) GOODWIN, D.W.; Schulsinger, F.; Hermansen, L.; Guze, S.B.; and Winokur, G. Alcohol problems in adoptees raised apart from alcoholic biological parents. Archives of General Psychiatry 28:238-243, 1973.

(5) WERNER, E.E. Resilient offspring of alcoholics: A longitudinal study from birth to age 18. Journal of Studies on Alcohol 47(1):34-40, 1986.

(6) ERVIN, C.S.; Little, R.E.; Streissguth, A.P.; and Beck, D.E. Alcoholic fathering and its relation to child s intellectual development: A pilot investigation. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 8(4):362-365, 1984.

(7) GABRIELLI, W.F., JR., & Mednick, S.A. Intellectual performance in children of alcoholics. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 171(7):444-447, 1983.

(8) BENNETT, L.A.; Wolin, S.J.; and Reiss, D. Cognitive, behavioral, and emotional problems among school-age children of alcoholic parents. American Journal of Psychiatry 145(2):185-190, 1988.

(9) JOHNSON, J.L., & Rolf, J.E. Cognitive functioning in children from alcoholic and non-alcoholic families. British Journal of Addiction 83:849-857, 1988.

(10) MILLER, D., & Jang, M. Children of alcoholics: A 20-year longitudinal study. Social Work Research & Abstracts 13:23-29, 1977.

(11) KNOP, J.; Teasdale, T.W.; Schulsinger, F.; and Goodwin, D.W. A prospective study of young men at high risk for alcoholism: School behavior and achievement. Journal of Studies on Alcohol 46(4):273-278, 1985.

(12) SCHUCKIT, M.A., & Chiles, J.A. Family history as a diagnostic aid in two samples of adolescents. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 166(3):165-176, 1978.

(13) MOOS, R.H., & Billings, A.G. Children of alcoholics during the recovery process: Alcoholic and matched control families. Addictive Behaviors 7:155-163, 1982.

(14) ANDERSON, E., & Quast, W. Young children in alcoholic families: A mental health needs-assessment and an intervention/prevention strategy. Journal of Primary Prevention 3:(3)174-187, 1983.

(15) PREWETT, M.J.; Spence, R.; and Chaknis, M. Attribution of causality by children with alcoholic parents. International Journal of the Addictions 16(2):367-370, 1981.

(16) ROLF, J.E.; Johnson, J.L.; Israel, E.; Baldwin, J.; and Chandra, A. Depressive affect in school-aged children of alcoholics. British Journal of Addiction 83:841-848, 1988.

(17) WEST, M.O., & Prinz, R.J. Parental alcoholism and childhood psychopathology. Psychological Bulletin 102(2):204-218, 1987.

(18) BELL, B., & Cohen, R. The Bristol Social Adjustment Guide: Comparison between the offspring of alcoholic and non-alcoholic mothers. British Journal of Clinical Psychology 20:93-95, 1981.

(19) FINE, E.W.; Yudin, L.W.; Holmes, J.; and Heinemann, S. Behavioral disorders in children with parental alcoholism. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 273:507-517, 1976.

(20) RIMMER, J. The children of alcoholics: An exploratory study. Children and Youth Services Review 4:365-373, 1982.

(21) STEINHAUSEN, H.-C.; Gobel, D.; and Nestler, V. Psychopathology in the offspring of alcoholic parents. Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry 23(4):465-471, 1984.

(22) MERIKANGAS, K.R.; Weissman, M.M.; Prusoff, B.A.; Pauls, D.L.; and Leckman, J.F. Depressives with secondary alcoholism: Psychiatric disorders in offspring. Journal of Studies on Alcohol 46(3):199-204, 1985.

(23) STEWART, M.A.; deBlois, C.S.; and Singer, S. Alcoholism and hyperactivity revisited: A preliminary report. In: Galanter, M., ed. Currents in Alcoholism. Volume V. New York: Grune & Stratton, 1979. pp. 349-357.

(24) CLAIR, D., & Genest, M. Variables associated with the adjustment of offspring of alcoholic fathers. Journal of Studies on Alcohol 48(4):345-355, 1986.

(25) FILSTEAD, W.J.; McElfresh, O.; and Anderson, C. Comparing the family environments of alcoholic and "normal" families. Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education 26(2):24-31, 1981.

(26) MOOS, R.H., & Moos, B.S. The process of recovery from alcoholism: Comparing functioning in families of alcoholics and matched control families. Journal of Studies on Alcohol 45(2):111-118, 1984.

(27) BILLINGS, A.G.; Kessler, M.; Gomberg, C.A.; and Weiner, S. Marital conflict resolution of alcoholic and nonalcoholic couples during drinking and non-drinking sessions. Journal of Studies on Alcohol 40(3):183-195, 1979.

(28) WOLIN, S.J.; Bennett, L.A.; Noonan, D.L.; and Teitelbaum, M.A. Disrupted family rituals: A factor in the intergenerational transmission of alcoholism. Journal of Studies on Alcohol 41(3):199-214, 1980.

(29) GARMEZY, N. Children at risk: The search for the antecedents of schizophrenia. Part II: Ongoing research programs, issues, and intervention. Schizophrenia Bulletin 9:55-125, 1974.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism wishes to acknowlege the following individuals who have contributed their time and expertise to the development of the Alcohol Alert series over the past 2 years:

John Allen, Ph.D.; Loran D. Archer; Gerald Brown, M.D.; Fulton Caldwell, Ph.D.; Mary Dufour, M.D., M.P.H.; Michael Eckardt, Ph.D.; Terry Freeman; Richard Fuller, M.D.; Bridget Grant, Ph.D.; Thomas Harford, Ph.D.; Brenda Hewitt; Jeannette Johnson, Ph.D.; Michael J. Lewis, Ph.D.; Markku Linnoila, M.D., Ph.D.; Jane Lockmuller; Diane Miller; John Noble; H. Laurence Ross, Ph.D.; Barbara Smothers, Ph.D.; Fred Stinson, Ph.D.; Cate Timmerman; Ken Warren, Ph.D.; Dianne Welsh; Gerald Williams, D.Ed.; and Terry Zobeck, Ph.D.

Source: NIAAA, ALCOHOL ALERT, No. 9, July 1990

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Roles In Dysfunctional Families


Roles In Dysfunctional Families

by Robert Burney M.A.

"We have come to understand that both the passive and the aggressive behavioral defense systems are reactions to the same kinds of childhood trauma, to the same kinds of emotional wounds. The Family Systems Dynamics research shows that within the family system, children adopt certain roles according to their family dynamics. Some of these roles are more passive, some are more aggressive, because in the competition for attention and validation within a family system the children must adopt different types of behaviors in order to feel like an individual."

The emotional dynamics of dysfunctional families are basic - and like emotional dynamics for all human beings are pretty predictable. The outside details may look quite different due to a variety of factors, but the dynamics of the human emotional process are the same for all human beings everywhere.

The basic roles which I list below apply to American culture specifically, and Western Civilization generally - but with a few changes in details could be made to fit most any culture.

There are four basic roles that children adopt in order to survive growing up in emotionally dishonest, shame-based, dysfunctional family systems. Some children maintain one role into adulthood while others switch from one role to another as the family dynamic changes (i.e. when the oldest leaves home, etc.) An only child may play all of the roles at one time or another.

"Responsible Child" - "Family Hero"

This is the child who is "9 going on 40." This child takes over the parent role at a very young age, becoming very responsible and self-sufficient. They give the family self-worth because they look good on the outside. They are the good students, the sports stars, the prom queens. The parents look to this child to prove that they are good parents and good people.
As an adult the Family Hero is rigid, controlling, and extremely judgmental (although perhaps very subtle about it) - of others and secretly of themselves. They achieve "success" on the outside and get lots of positive attention but are cut off from their inner emotional life, from their True Self. They are compulsive and driven as adults because deep inside they feel inadequate and insecure.

The family hero, because of their "success" in conforming to dysfunctional cultural definitions of what constitutes doing life "right", is often the child in the family who as an adult has the hardest time even admitting that there is anything within themselves that needs to be healed.

"Acting out child" - "Scapegoat"

This is the child that the family feels ashamed of - and the most emotionally honest child in the family. He/she acts out the tension and anger the family ignores. This child provides distraction from the real issues in the family. The scapegoat usually has trouble in school because they get attention the only way they know how - which is negatively. They often become pregnant or addicted as teenagers.

These children are usually the most sensitive and caring which is why they feel such tremendous hurt. They are romantics who become very cynical and distrustful. They have a lot of self-hatred and can be very self-destructive. This often results in this child becoming the first person in the family to get into some kind of recovery.

"Placater" - "Mascot" - "Caretaker"

This child takes responsibility for the emotional well-being of the family. They become the families 'social director' and/or clown, diverting the family's attention from the pain and anger.

This child becomes an adult who is valued for their kind heart, generosity, and ability to listen to others. Their whole self-definition is centered on others and they don't know how to get their own needs met. They become adults who cannot receive love, only give it. They often have case loads rather than friendships - and get involved in abusive relationships in an attempt to "save" the other person. They go into the helping professions and become nurses, and social workers, and therapists. They have very low self-worth and feel a lot of guilt that they work very hard to overcome by being really "nice" (i.e. people pleasing, classically codependent) people.

"Adjuster" - "Lost Child"

This child escapes by attempting to be invisible. They daydream, fantasize, read a lot of books or watch a lot of TV. They deal with reality by withdrawing from it. They deny that they have any feelings and "don't bother getting upset."
These children grow up to be adults who find themselves unable to feel and suffer very low self-esteem. They are terrified of intimacy and often have relationship phobia. They are very withdrawn and shy and become socially isolated because that is the only way they know to be safe from being hurt. A lot of actors and writers are 'lost children' who have found a way to express emotions while hiding behind their characters.

It is important to note that we adapt the roles that are best suited to our personalities. We are, of course, born with a certain personality. What happens with the roles we adapt in our family dynamic is that we get a twisted, distorted view of who we are as a result of our personality melding with the roles. This is dysfunctional because it causes us to not be able to see ourselves clearly. As long as we are still reacting to our childhood wounding and old tapes then we cannot get in touch clearly with who we really are.

The false self that we develop to survive is never totally false - there is always some Truth in it. For example, people who go into the helping professions do truly care and are not doing what they do simply out of Codependence. Nothing is black and white - everything in life involves various shades of gray.

Recovery is about getting honest with ourselves and finding some balance in our life. Recovery is about seeing ourselves more clearly and honestly so that we can start being True to who we really are instead of to who are parents wanted us to be. (Reacting to the other extreme by rebelling against who they wanted us to be is still living life in reaction to our childhoods. It is still giving power over how we live our life to the past instead of seeing clearly so that we can own our choices today.) The clearer we can see our self the easier it becomes to find some balance in our life - to find some happiness, fulfillment, and serenity.