ACOA Triggers

 Both of my parents were/are alcoholics. So, I’m going to list any ACOA Triggers I can think of, but I’m sure there are still SO many more.

ACOA Triggers

A list of ACOA Triggers from an ACOA


Some of us are more tolerant than others but it’s not unusual for someone who grew up around alcoholism to steer clear of it & anything related to it…

Physical Altercations

Statistically, violence and alcohol are tied together more than not… This means a lot of people that grew up with alcoholism do not like arguing or anything that usually happens before it gets to the point of being physical.

    • The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that roughly 55% of domestic abuse perpetrators were drinking alcohol prior to assault.
    • Women who are abused are 15 times more likely to abuse alcohol. (source)

Door Slamming



Rather not.

Yelling/Swearing/Vulgar language

ACOA Triggers

Peeling Out

I’m not sure how many DUIs begin with someone peeling out but it’s not a good sound for someone who has helplessly watched this scene play out.

You’re kind of relieved they’re gone but you know it’s just another calm before the storm.


Intimacy is about partnership, connection, familiarity & trust.

Children of alcoholics were created in an environment that relentlessly taught them to NOT trust. A lot of us have heard the rules of alcoholism;

“don’t talk, don’t trust, don’t feel.”

Kids learn how to perceive people and situations from their caregivers.

But children of alcoholics regularly witness their own caregivers transform into someone unrecognizable.

There is no solid foundation of what normal behavior is because an alcoholic is unpredictable.

In addition to that confusion, other adults become desensitized to the alcoholic’s behavior. So these environments lack any validation for the confused & scared children that something is off .

This makes a child question their own intuition. On top of that, people who drink conveniently forget that the things they did while intoxicated ever happened; while the victims of it do not.

If you do have enough energy left in you to bring it up the next day, you’ll quickly be discredited by the drinker & your need for resolution has risked starting another altercation.

A child in this environment was taught outright & subliminally to

      1. Abandon their own needs
      2. Overlook mistreatment
      3. Ignore their intuition

Their deep distrust prevents them from offering the vulnerability required for true intimacy to develop.

& When the natural progression of a relationship inevitably becomes more emotionally demanding; these attachment issues will surface. 


“…repeated trauma in childhood forms and deforms the personality. The child trapped in an abusive environment is faced with formidable tasks of adaptation.

She must find a way to preserve a sense of trust in people who are untrustworthy, safety in a situation that is unsafe, control in a situation that is terrifyingly unpredictable, power in a situation of helplessness.

Unable to care for or protect herself, she must compensate for the failures of adult care and protection with the only means at her disposal, an immature system of psychological defenses.”

Judith Lewis Herman



Here are a few reasons why criticism is one of the ACOA Triggers

    • Healthy criticism is foreign to an ACOA, therefore often misinterpreted
    • Criticism typically precipitated violence
    • Criticism confirms an ACOA’s perceived rejection

All of these can send our body into an overwhelming sense of turmoil.

Ignoring the Elephant in the Room

A lot of us spent our whole childhood ignoring the elephant in the room. We’re quite familiar with the situation & because of it, we have dealt with enormous emotional burdens.

We can quickly pick up on those covert cues & a lot of us refuse to respond accordingly BUT we haven’t had the greatest experiences with conflict. We can easily feel deadlocked & start to panic.

Invasion of Personal Space

Man, this one.

If someone grabs my shoulder & starts jerking me back and forth.

ACOA Triggers

Perverted/Sexualized jokes

Beer burps?

Bars/VFW (The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the US)/American Legion/Pubs

Seeing Others “Bar Ready” or Getting Bar Ready

I don’t know, maybe this was just something I witnessed.

But when the glitter lotion makes an appearance; buckle up.

Loud Music

Microwavable Food

    • TV dinners
    • Cup a soups
    • Ramen noodles

A lot of ACOAs fed themselves & some of us don’t care to eat another microwaveable meal.

Drifters/Homeless People/Hitchhikers

Towards the end of my moms life she always seemed to have questionable people around. They stole things, pawned things, had a lot of scars…

They did not seem well & always needed rides. I just can’t tolerate the drifter vibe. 

ACOA Triggers

Holidays/Family Functions

Public Transportation

Food Lines

Absenteeism/Leaving Without Notice

Just comes back to attachment issues…


A lot of people only smoke when they drink or smoke much more when they drink; which makes smoking somewhat of a trigger. Or, Maybe you had a parent that went downhill fast & they picked up smoking in the process.


I mean I personally didn’t mind going to the arcade thing while mom gambled but becoming a regular there was a bit weird. I always get some sort of feeling when I walk past the ‘Kids Zone’.

Something/Someone Waking You Up Abruptly

Bottle Returns

That sticky floor & cauldron of beer smell…

Hospital Rooms

There is something about seeing your parent weak & sick in a hospital bed that hits you right in the gut. As kids we said goodbye to our mom at the hospital & a lot of other hospital visits led up to that final visit.

I’m a nurse now & worked in a hospital for years, yet every time I see those distinctive hospital socks I’m taken back.

Financial Strain

People handle money differently so we’re all bound to have some conflicting views.

For some people it’s a topic that is known to end in arguing and violence.

For me personally, I watched my mom helplessly sort of just die.. Now I see that drugs & alcohol were the cause, but she complained a whole lot about not having any money.

not having money = death

I know that witnessing her struggle was the strongest motivator for me starting & getting through college.

Money is still something I pay very close attention to.

It has the potential to be a hot topic for anyone, we might just be a little more sensitive to it.

Athletic Events/School Related Activities

They just never feel the same after you’ve been publicly humiliated in front of all your peers by your drunk parent.

I was only in 2 different teams throughout childhood but each time I was the kid that couldn’t afford the actual uniform or shoes.

Now I’m just whining. 

Cold/Unkept house

It doesn’t matter if it’s just me there or adults; it’s when kids are going to be there.

I refuse to be the adult with the cold disgusting house. 


Honestly who enjoys a courthouse? But, a custody battle can be pretty traumatizing for a child.

Abuse is another situation that sometimes involves a court date.

Or, maybe you have a parent who couldn’t seem to stay away from jail, court, or probation.. 

Law Enforcement

The Sound of Cracking a Beer/Opening a Bottle/Cork Popping


Only takes one gun incident to change your relationship with firearms forever.

Solo Cups, Cards, and Other Party Paraphernalia

Hearing the Same Thing Over (Deja Vu)

It’s probably annoying to most people to hear the same thing twice.. 

If you lived with someone who had a habit of telling you something at length, as if you haven’t heard it before, every single day;

ACOA Triggers

Repetition turns into a hot button.

Alcohol Commercials/Ads/Billboards

After you’ve witnessed the true horrors of alcoholism, it’s kind of offensive to see it portrayed as a good time.



OK, there is the list of ACOA Triggers that I came up with. Feel free to comment with anything I didn’t think of or one of yours!




Other Posts Related to ACOA Triggers


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What It’s Like Living In A Home With Alcoholism.. in GIFS

The 5 Popular Family Roles In Alcoholic Families

Family Dynamics of Alcoholism: 4 New Troubling Roles

10 Exercises to Stop Negative Thinking

10 Signs of Emotional Neglect In Adults

Your Amygdala and Childhood Trauma: 4 Truths You Should Know

How To Deal With Immature Parents: 5 Effective Strategies

50 Signs You’re Healing from Trauma

17 Brutal Truths About Losing a Parent As a Child

9 Tips For How to Get Out of Victim Mentality



Reading Material related to ACOA Triggers


The adaptations to an ACOAs character are engrained & usually dysfunctional.

They often feel empty, isolated or feel that something is “off” inside them.

This was the first book I came across on the topic.

(My brother found it in a box of free books)

Recovery: A Guide for Adult Children of Alcoholics

Another book that really helped me

Mother’s Who Can’t Love

(For mama trauma)

ACOA Triggers


Groups Related to ACOA Triggers


Adult Children of Alcoholics/Dysfunctional Families

Hope Recovery


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ACOA Triggers





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