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Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families


ACA is a 12 Step program that focuses on emotional sobriety.  

We were all profoundly affected by the dysfunction in our families of origin, whether alcohol was present in the home or not. Consequently, we developed a “laundry list” of traits that helped us survive that experience. These traits may have been adaptive at the time but have now come to disrupt our lives substantially.  

We recover by “working our program.” 


This means attending ACA meetings and working on the Twelve Steps. The Steps are not meant to be worked in isolation, which is why we work with more experienced members, a twelve-step group, and/or our fellow travelers (others in ACA).

ACA is a spiritual program, not a religious program.

The only requirement for membership is a desire to recover from the effects of growing up in an alcoholic or otherwise dysfunctional family. ACA has no membership fees.

Since each meeting is autonomous and can be a different experience, we recommend that if your first meeting is not a fit for you, try other meetings before deciding if the ACA program can be helpful in your journey from discovery to recovery.

Meetings are intended to be a safe place.


We share our experience, strength, and hope; we offer compassion and understanding. We also have the right not to share unless we are ready.


We welcome you to join us.


Tuesday Night ACA Step Group

Our Women Empowering Women ACA Tuesday Night ACA Group for women seeking sponsors. Since we are a new group to WEW, we have only two sponsors for ACA, and they have no opening for new ones. We are a group of women working the step together for the first time...TOGETHER. We will become the first graduates...and the first group of potential sponsors for ACA (if we choose to be). This process will go as slow as we need to to have the support and encouragement we need. We will buddy up and start with step one. You will have contact info provided for your partner and group connections at the meeting. Any material used in the meeting and required by the attendees will be provided access. Currently, the workbook is the only material needed to attend. If you have any questions, contact referencing ACA Step Group. MEETING LEADER AND FACILITATOR: Dane


The ACA Program
In WEW, we change verbiage in our 12-Step Meetings from GOD to Higher Power
For Copyright Reasons, we have left it as originally printed.

The ACA Twelve Steps

 1) We admitted we were powerless over the effects of alcoholism or other family dysfunction, that our lives had become unmanageable. 2) Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. 3) Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of the higher power of our own understanding. 4) Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. 5) Admitted to our higher power, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. 6) Were entirely ready to have our higher power remove all these defects of character. 7) Humbly asked our higher power to remove our shortcomings. 8) Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all. 9) Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. 10) Continued to take personal inventory and, when we were wrong, promptly admitted it. 11) Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with our higher power, praying only for knowledge of our higher powers will for us and the power to carry that out. 12) Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others who still suffer, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
The Twelve Steps are reprinted and adapted from the original Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Adult Children of Alcoholics®/Dysfunctional Families World Service Organization, Inc. | | | +1(310) 534-1815 ACA WSO Literature Distribution Center | +1(562) 595-7831 ©2016 ACA WSO, Inc. All rights reserved.

The ACA Twelve Traditions

1) Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends on ACA unity. 2) For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority – a loving higher power of our own understanding as expressed in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants, they do not govern. 3) The only requirement for membership in ACA is a desire to recover from the effects of growing up in an alcoholic or otherwise dysfunctional family. 4) Each group is autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or ACA as a whole. We cooperate with all other Twelve-Step programs. 5) Each group has but one primary purpose – to carry its message to the adult child who still suffers. 6) An ACA group ought never endorse, finance, or lend the ACA name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property, and prestige divert us from our primary purpose. 7) Every ACA group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions. 8) Adult Children of Alcoholics should remain forever non-professional, but our service centers may employ special workers. 9) ACA, as such, ought never be organized, but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve. 10) Adult Children of Alcoholics has no opinion on outside issues; hence the ACA name ought never be drawn into public controversy. 11) Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, TV, films, and other public media. 12) Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.
The Twelve Traditions are reprinted and adapted from the original Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous and are used with the permission of Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. Adult Children of Alcoholics®/Dysfunctional Families World Service Organization, Inc. | | | +1(310) 534-1815 ACA WSO Literature Distribution Center | +1(562) 595-7831 ©2015 ACA WSO, Inc. All rights reserved

The Laundry List
(14 Traits of an Adult Child)

These are characteristics we seem to have in common due to being brought up in an alcoholic or otherwise dysfunctional household. 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 became 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; 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. Tony A. 1978

The Other Laundry List

1) To cover our fear of people and our dread of isolation we tragically become the very authority figures who frighten others and cause them to withdraw. 2) To avoid becoming enmeshed and entangled with other people and losing ourselves in the process, we become rigidly self-sufficient. We disdain the approval of others. 3) We frighten people with our anger and threat of belittling criticism. 4) We dominate others and abandon them before they can abandon us or we avoid relationships with dependent people altogether. To avoid being hurt, we isolate and dissociate and thereby abandon ourselves. 5) We live life from the standpoint of a victimizer, and are attracted to people we can manipulate and control in our important relationships. 6) We are irresponsible and self-centered. Our inflated sense of self-worth and self-importance prevents us from seeing our deficiencies and shortcomings. 7) We make others feel guilty when they attempt to assert themselves. 8) We inhibit our fear by staying deadened and numb. 9) We hate people who “play” the victim and beg to be rescued. 10) We deny that we’ve been hurt and are suppressing our emotions by the dramatic expression of “pseudo” feelings. 11) To protect ourselves from self punishment for failing to “save” the family we project our self-hate onto others and punish them instead. 12) We “manage” the massive amount of deprivation we feel, coming from abandonment within the home, by quickly letting go of relationships that threaten our “independence” (not too close). 13) We refuse to admit we’ve been affected by family dysfunction or that there was dysfunction in the home or that we have internalized any of the family’s destructive attitudes and behaviors. 14) We act as if we are nothing like the dependent people who raised us.

The Flip Side of The Laundry List

1) We move out of isolation and are not unrealistically afraid of other people, even authority figures. 2) We do not depend on others to tell us who we are. 3) We are not automatically frightened by angry people and no longer regard personal criticism as a threat. 4) We do not have a compulsive need to recreate abandonment. 5) We stop living life from the standpoint of victims and are not attracted by this trait in our important relationships. 6) We do not use enabling as a way to avoid looking at our own shortcomings. 7) We do not feel guilty when we stand up for ourselves. 8) We avoid emotional intoxication and choose workable relationships instead of constant upset. 9) We are able to distinguish love from pity, and do not think “rescuing” people we “pity” is an act of love. 10) We come out of denial about our traumatic childhoods and regain the ability to feel and express our emotions. 11) We stop judging and condemning ourselves and discover a sense of self-worth. 12) We grow in independence and are no longer terrified of abandonment. We have interdependent relationships with healthy people, not dependent relationships with people who are emotionally unavailable. 13) The characteristics of alcoholism and para-alcoholism we have internalized are identified, acknowledged, and removed. 14) We are actors, not reactors

The Flip Side of The Other Laundry List

1) We face and resolve our fear of people and our dread of isolation and stop intimidating others with our power and position. 2) We realize the sanctuary we have built to protect the frightened and injured child within has become a prison and we become willing to risk moving out of isolation. 3) With our renewed sense of self-worth and self-esteem we realize it is no longer necessary to protect ourselves by intimidating others with contempt, ridicule and anger. 4) We accept and comfort the isolated and hurt inner child we have abandoned and disavowed and thereby end the need to act out our fears of enmeshment and abandonment with other people. 5) Because we are whole and complete we no longer try to control others through manipulation and force and bind them to us with fear in order to avoid feeling isolated and alone. 6) Through our in-depth inventory we discover our true identity as capable, worthwhile people. By asking to have our shortcomings removed we are freed from the burden of inferiority and grandiosity. 7) We support and encourage others in their efforts to be assertive. 8) We uncover, acknowledge and express our childhood fears and withdraw from emotional intoxication. 9) We have compassion for anyone who is trapped in the “drama triangle” and is desperately searching for a way out of insanity. 10) We accept we were traumatized in childhood and lost the ability to feel. Using the 12 Steps as a program of recovery we regain the ability to feel and remember and become whole human beings who are happy, joyous and free. 11) In accepting we were powerless as children to “save” our family we are able to release our self-hate and to stop punishing ourselves and others for not being enough. 12) By accepting and reuniting with the inner child we are no longer threatened by intimacy, by the fear of being engulfed or made invisible. 13) By acknowledging the reality of family dysfunction we no longer have to act as if nothing were wrong or keep denying that we are still unconsciously reacting to childhood harm and injury. 14) We stop denying and do something about our post-traumatic dependency on substances, people, places and things to distort and avoid reality.

The Problem (Adapted from The Laundry List)

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.

The Solution

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 reparent 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.

The ACA Promises

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.

The ACA Twelve Concepts

Concept I – The final responsibility and the ultimate authority for ACA World Services should always reside in the collective conscience of our whole fellowship. Concept II – Authority for the active maintenance of our world services is hereby delegated to the actual voice, the effective conscience for our whole fellowship. Concept III – As a means of creating and maintaining a clearly defined working relationship between the ACA meetings, the ACA WSO Board of Trustees, and its staff and committees, and thus ensuring their effective leadership, it is herein suggested that we endow each of these elements of service with the traditional Right of Decision. * *The right of decision as defined herein refers to: 1) the right and responsibility of each trusted servant to speak and vote his/her own conscience, in the absence of any contrary mandate, on any issue regardless of the level of service; 2) the 12 Steps, 12 Traditions, and the Commitment to Service will be followed by trusted servants in decision making; 3) delegates to the Annual Business Conference are trusted servants and therefore equally guided by the 12 Steps, 12 Traditions, 12 Concepts, and the Commitment to Service; 4) standard practice that decisions made by subcommittees are subject to the authority of the service body which creates its mission and defines its parameters. Concept IV – Throughout our structure, we maintain at all responsible levels a traditional Right of Participation. Concept V – Throughout our structure, a Right of Petition prevails, thus assuring us that minority opinion will be heard and that petitions for the redress of grievances will be carefully considered. Concept VI – On behalf of ACA as a whole, our Annual Business Conference has the principal responsibility for the maintenance of our world services, and it traditionally has the final decision respecting large matters of general policy and finance. But the Annual Business Conference also recognizes that the chief initiative and the active responsibility in most of these matters would be exercised primarily by the Trustee members of the World Service Organization when they act among themselves as the World Service Organization of Adult Children of Alcoholics. Concept VII – The Annual Business Conference recognizes that the Articles of Incorporation and the Bylaws of the Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization are legal instruments: that the Trustees are thereby fully empowered to manage and conduct all of the world service affairs of Adult Children of Alcoholics.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is WSO? WSO is the World Service Organization of Adult Children of Alcoholics. It acts as the central agency of the program, gathering and disseminating meeting information; creating and distributing literature for use in the Family Groups and provides information to the general public. What is ACA (ACoA)? Adult Children of Alcoholics is a recovery program for adults whose lives were affected as a result of being raised in an alcoholic or other dysfunctional family. It is based on the success of Alcoholics Anonymous and employs its version of the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. Do my parents need to be alcoholics? No! If you can identify with The Problem or have several of the characteristics of the “Laundry List” ACA will benefit you. What is the cost? ACA is self-help, self-supporting program and according to our Seventh Tradition we finance our own way. If you are financially able we ask for a small contribution at each meeting. What is a Higher Power? ACA is a spiritual program, based on no particular religion or set of beliefs but rather an understanding of a power greater than ourselves that can aid us on our path to recovery. This Higher Power is as diverse as the individuals of the group. Where is a meeting? For a list of all the known ACA meetings please go to the Meetings Page. Then you can verify the meeting of your choice by calling the local phone number. Just as individuals recover and grow meetings are born and die as the need arises or declines. WSO tries to keep the meeting information current but cannot guarantee that every meeting listed is active. See the next section for other options if there are no ACA meetings listed in your local area. How do I find a meeting when there is none in my area? Unfortunately, there are many areas around the world without any ACA meetings. If you cannot find a meeting listed for your area, check out the Telephone or Internet meeting; they are listed under the County “Telephone” and “Internet” respectively. Another option would be to start a new meeting in your area.” See the next section. How do I start a meeting? If you have checked the ‘Meetings Page’ and were unable to locate a meeting nearby you may wish to start an ACA meeting in your town. It’s easy. Start by ordering a ‘New Meeting Pack’, which is available on the Literature Order Form. This will give you all the basic materials for establishing and running an ACA meeting. The ACA Fellowship Text also includes information on starting a new meeting. Information from the New Meeting Packet sufficient to start a new meeting is also available for download from the ACA Literature Page. Why doesn’t ACA link to other websites? We do not provide links to other websites because of our Sixth Tradition, which states that we do not endorse any outside enterprise. Since we have no control as to where other sites may lead and what they may endorse, we cannot violate this Tradition. We do grant other webs permission to link to our site. Please link only to

More Information:


The ACA 12 Steps
The ACA 12 Traditions
The ACA Laundry List
The ACA Other Laundry List
The Flip Side
Flip Side of The Other
The Problem
The Solution
The ACA Promises
The 12 Concepts
Frequently Asked Questions

Women Empowering Women Support Groups

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