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Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA or ACOA) – 12 Step Program

What is the Adult Children of Alcoholics 12 step program?

Adult Children of Alcoholics is a 12-step program created for individuals who come from broken, dysfunctional, alcoholic families. A safe place for members, the group is similar to Alcoholics Anonymous or Al-Anon, as it has a similar format and guide to work through the 12 steps of the program, but it was created for individuals who suffer from growing up in a household of dysfunctionality. The program focuses on emotional sobriety for its members, allowing them to cleanse their minds, bodies and spirits. While it is similar to Al-Anon, it helps members focus on themselves without blaming themselves, rather than focusing on the alcoholic in their family.

How does it work?

Adult Children of Alcoholics meetings are similar in format to Al-Anon, but the focus is more for members to discuss their own issues. Many members have experiences of abuse, neglect and fear that need to be addressed and the meetings are in place to allow these individuals a safe place for them to share and discuss their experiences, strengths and hopes. Every meeting gives members a place to openly discuss their own feelings. The meetings are in place to provide members the opportunity to discuss more than just their dysfunctional families; but a place to discuss everything they are feeling and experiencing.

Newcomers can review “The Laundry List,” a list of 14 characteristics of Adult Children of Alcoholics, to see whether or not they would be a good fit for the program. The program has its own literature and meeting formats so that newcomers can feel welcome and understand what the meeting is for and why it is important for them to attend.

When did it start?

Adult Children of Alcoholics started in 1978 in New York by an individual named Tony A. The program began when members of the Alateen meetings realized they were having issues connecting and relating with members of Al-Anon. After hearing Tony’s story he shared during an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, they had approached him about forming a new group because, while they did not share any age similarities, they felt they could relate to his story more than with the members of Al-Anon. Tony and the few members from Alateen decided to create a program that would allow individuals to come together and discuss their experiences, as well as focus on the recovery of living in alcoholic families. Unlike other 12-step programs, Adult Children of Alcoholics doesn’t put the blame on the member or require them to admit any powerlessness over alcohol.

After much encouragement from his members as the meetings grew, Tony decided to develop a format for meetings and write “The Laundry List,” which is the official Adult Children of Alcoholics literature. This gave newcomers an opportunity to decide for themselves if they were a good fit for the program by reviewing “The Laundry List” and answering the questions for themselves.

It wasn’t until 1979 that the 12 steps were created for the program. While the program did adapt to the same style as other self-help programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, Tony and another member, Don D., decided that it wasn’t appropriate to utilize the same concepts. They wanted to offer members something more fitting for their needs, instead of forcing individuals to make amends to abusive parents or offering members to take a “blameless” inventory of themselves.

Why does it work?

While the program is similar in the concept of other 12-step programs, the focus of the program is much different. Adult Children of Alcoholics works because it provides members a way to heal their minds, bodies and spirits. Obtaining emotional sobriety is crucial to obtaining true peace and happiness, which is something members can find in the program after they begin working the steps.

The program works because it doesn’t force members to blame themselves for growing up in a dysfunctional home; instead it allows them to cope with their pasts and address the core issues many of these individuals face so that they can lead successful lives. Dealing with the issues that members identify with on “The Laundry List” is an important way to find out what traumatic experiences may have shaped members and gives them the opportunity to free themselves from shame and abandonment; characteristics that many of the members face in this group.

The program works for those who work it. Adult Children of Alcoholics is a safe place for members to know that they are not alone. While they may have struggled with these experiences on their own in their dysfunctional homes, working this program and attending meetings is a sure way to begin the healing process and lead to the road of recovery. If newcomers are unsure of whether or not they are in the right place, “The Laundry List” offers 14 characteristics for individuals to see if they can identify with. For many members, answering yes to any of the listed questions is enough motivation to begin attending meetings and joining the fellowship of Adult Children of Alcoholics.

The 12 Steps of Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA or ACOA)

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 God as we understand God.

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

7. Humbly asked God 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 God, as we understand God, praying only for knowledge of God’s 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 12 Traditions of Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA or ACOA)

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 God 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.

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