Adult children of alcoholics : an exploration of heterogeneity utilizing childhood roles, family of origin health, and adult attachment styles
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Research reports that an estimated forty-three percent of adults, or seventy-six million people, in the United States have relatives who are alcoholic. In addition, one in eight individuals, or an estimated 30 million adults, has an alcoholic parent. The literature suggests that the impact of growing up in an alcoholic family system may affect psychological functioning well into adulthood. Adult children of alcoholics (ACOAs) are at increased risk for a myriad of psychological symptoms including substance abuse/dependency, problems in interpersonal relationships, depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. However, research has also indicated that there may be more heterogeneity within this group than previously reported. It has been suggested that while patterns of maladjustment and increased risk for psychological distress may be evident, no clear “syndrome” related to this population was supported. This study explored whether an ACOA’s childhood family role (i.e. Hero, Scapegoat, Mascot and Lost Child) explained variance within this population, using adult attachment and family of origin health as outcome measures. Results did not support this hypothesis. This study also examined between group differences in adult attachment styles and family of origin health between a sample of ACOAs and Non-ACOAs. Analysis indicated that ACOAs reported significantly more Fearful attachment styles than Non-ACOAs. As well, post-hoc analyses indicated that ACOAs described their families of origin as promoting significantly less personal responsibility, as well as, having lower support for the expression of emotions and constructive conflict resolution than Non-ACOAs. This study provides information which may be utilized by clinicians working with this population. The impact of less secure attachment styles within the therapeutic relationship should be considered. As well, this study provides evidence that a specific pattern of maladjustment secondary to the dynamics created by the disease of addiction may be present within alcoholic family systems that may differentiate them from other “dysfunctional” families.