Factors related to chemical dependence in adult offspring of alcoholic parents

Juliana Fiore, Fordham University


Although children of alcoholic parents are at greater risk for developing alcoholism than are children of non-alcoholic parents, heredity explains only part of the increased risk. Therefore, environmental factors must be investigated to improve explanatory models of alcoholism. The purpose of the study was to investigate individual and family characteristics that distinguish chemically dependent adult offspring of alcoholic parents (CD-AOAs) from non-chemically dependent adult offspring of alcoholic parents (NonCD-AOAs). Childhood abuse, the participant's age when parental alcoholism began, the length of time the participant lived with an alcoholic parent, and interpretive style (participant's interpretations of alcohol-related family experiences) were investigated. Participants were volunteers solicited through 12-step meetings, halfway houses, and newspaper advertisements. The sample included 119 participants who completed the Children of Alcoholics Screening Test, a demographic questionnaire, the Substance Abuse Subtle Screening Inventory-2 (SASSI-2), an abridged version of the Child Maltreatment Interview Schedule - Short Form, and the Interpretive Style Questionnaire. Based on SASSI-2 criteria, there were 55 chemically dependent (CD) participants and 64 non-chemically dependent (NonCD) participants. As predicted, childhood sexual abuse (but not physical abuse) was significantly more prevalent in the CD group. Contrary to predictions, there were no significant differences between CD-AOAs and NonCD-AOAs on interpretive style. Interestingly, although NonCD-AOAs who were sexually abused had significantly less adaptive interpretive styles than did NonCD-AOAs who were not sexually abused, these findings did not hold true for the CD group. Neither the participant's age at the onset of parental alcoholism nor the length of time the participant lived with an alcoholic parent distinguished the CD and the Non-CD groups. An important limitation was that a majority of CD participants were in 12-step recovery programs. Similar studies with CD individuals who are not in recovery or who recently became sober might yield different results regarding interpretive style since it is unclear whether being in recovery influences how people think and feel about their childhood experiences with parental alcoholism. The prevalence of sexual abuse in the CD group suggests that clinicians in the substance abuse field should be properly trained to assess and treat clients who have been sexually abused.

Subject Area

Psychotherapy|Social psychology|Behaviorial sciences

Recommended Citation

Fiore, Juliana, "Factors related to chemical dependence in adult offspring of alcoholic parents" (1997). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9729602.