Same Issues, Better Label

I've always been uneasy with the label "Adult Children of Alcoholics."  It's part label and part diagnosis.  And for me it carries ultra-icky feelings with it.  

For one, the label "Adult Children of Alcoholics" feels left-over from the 1970s.  As terminology, it feels dated.  Plus, it's a term created by and passed down from psychologists.  I don't have anything against psychologist, not in the least actually, but — having my condition being named by a doctor is one thing; being self-named is more empowering. 

For another thing, it's a confusing label.  "Adult Child." Who's the adult?  Who is the child?  Am I a childlike adult, or am I a grown-up child (old, but immature?) or what?  Why not just plain Child of Alcoholics, rather than Adult Child, since no matter what age I am, I am still the child of an alcoholic?  There isn't aren't secondary categories for Infant Children of Alcoholics, Teenage Child of Alcoholics, Middle Age Children of Alcoholics, or Elderly Children of Alcoholics.  It seems overly confusing, particularly when it's the adults who raised us who're the child like ones.  "Children of Childlike Adults" is more apt.  

Is crapping on about the phrase "Adult Children of Alcoholics" too nit-picky of me?  Am I obsessing?  Is this a distraction from other, more important musings? 

Maybe it's because I am fascinated by language and linguistics, and definitely, I'm obsessive about language — that I've zeroed in on the ACA/ACoA moniker. 

Or, am I on to something here?

The central reason I dislike the label "Adult Child of Alcoholics" is because it defines me in the context of another person.  It's me + another.  Adult Child (me) + an Alcoholic (them). And being defined in terms of others is exactly what I'm trying to transform away from. Please don't give me a label that forever defines me in the context of another — in this sense, the term Adult Children of Alcoholics is itself co-dependent!

When someone's Diabetic or has MS, they are labeled something that belongs just to them, not also to someone else.  In our case, our "condition" belongs to us as much as to someone else.  Yet, we're the ones dealing with it – on our own.

The label "Adult Children of Alcoholics" portrays us a bit as second-class citizen in the juxtaposition:  adult child of an alcoholic.  Without the alcoholic, we're not defined.  Our definition is anchored by the alcoholic. 

So you can see why I have icky, itchy, creepy-crawly feelings about the label.  The label has co-dependence embedded within it. 

I haven't yet come up with a more, us-oriented label. 

But, I have some ideas:

Selfescent (a person in the process of cultivating one's self.   -escent is a Latin suffix that means "in the process of".)  

Wild Human or just Ferocious (someone not domesticated;  feroci- is the Latin prefix for "untamed" or "wild," like…a child not truly raised by a parent.)

Pre-Adult (pre- is Latin for before.)  

Others-Focused Individual (well, maybe not – I think this one has the problem of being suggestive that other people are involved…)

I could keep going, but for the moment I'm really liking Selfescent.  

(Where's the copyright center?)



  1. Rain says:

    What a wonderful thought. I agree that the ACOA label (and all labels) are outdated and icky sounding.
    I have been reading your blog for a year now and I love it. Thank you.

  2. Madeleine says:

    Aww these labels are pretty great! I proudly take the label of Ferocious. And Pre-Adult feels so accurate.

  3. amy eden says:

    Grrrr! I like Ferocious!

  4. amy eden says:

    Icky, yes. Looks like Im not alone in this shirking away from this thing we’re called!

  5. Misty says:

    I agree that the term ACOA is outdated. I actually prefer Adult Child of an Addicted Person a little better, which is how I learned it in my studies. I can also appreciate your problems with the terminology, although to be honest I had never considered it before.
    But even after thinking about it for a couple of days, I have to say that I am still okay with the term. I guess to me, it is just a fact. I am the child of an addicted person, and I may be an “adult” now but my parents and my history will always be mine- and they will always be there. I guess I accepted a long time ago that for better or worse, my life would somehow be defined by the addictions of others. Sometimes I still want to be free of that fact, but most of the time I just try to accept it. So the term ACOA is actually something that helps me accept it better. To me it sounds more factual. It is what it is.
    I will say however that the word “codependency” is such an icky word for me, for many of the reasons you said. So I guess that is not any different. :)

  6. denisekc says:

    great points in this post! i like ‘pre-adult’ or even ‘adult child’ without the ‘of an alcoholic/addicted person’ qualifier. what a wonderful idea to define myself in reference to NO ONE ELSE but ME! thanks again.

  7. nik says:

    Yeah, I don’t like ‘adult’ and ‘child’ right next to eachother like that in the label. Am I viewed as an adult child because of lack of parenting? That doesn’t feel very dignified. I feel more like an ‘Adult without a Childhood’ rather than an ‘Adult Child. . . ‘

  8. amyeden says:

    Ah, that really hits the spot: Adult without a Childhood. That’s a much better play on words. Adults who had children for parents…

  9. I like co-dependent. I think it is a broader term not limited to children of alcoholics. Many of my closest friends are co-dependents for other reasons (parents were neurotic/unpredictable, drug addicts, etc.) and the term adult children of alcoholics excludes those who we have a lot in common with. It also sets up an artificial divide between alcoholics and children of alcoholics, when many times we have the same root issue of co-dependence resulting from growing up in an alcoholic home. I think it describes us as having issues in relationships with other people without making us a product of them. I used to say “recovering people pleaser” before I discovered adult children of alcoholics, but okay selfescent is pretty awesome.

  10. Anne says:

    Just stumbled upon this linked from elsewhere. I actually think it should be called Adult Children Anonymous. The literature states that we are adults who approach the world with behavior we figured out as a child in order to survive… And now we get to reparent ourselves in a loving manner. I’m in on that, so I’m fine with “adult child.” I think replacing the reference to alcoholics with “anonymous” would take the focus off of the qualifier, whether addict, abuser, mentally ill, whatever, and align it with the other 12 step “anonymous” programs.

  11. [...] else (the alcoholic), and after an entire childhood spent focused on everyone but me (here’s that post), I don’t want to continue living beneath their umbrella. I want to be defined in terms of what [...]

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