The Long Term Impact of Adolescent Risky Behaviors and Family Environment. F. Parental Alcoholism


A branch of research has developed around the issue of parental or familial alcoholism's effects upon children and adults (Russell, 1990). Research shows that children of alcoholics (COAs) are at risk for a plethora of negative outcomes, including early onset of alcohol and drug use and lowered academic achievement (Chassin, et al, 1993; Hill and Yuan, 1999; McGrath, Watson, and Chassin, 1999). Individuals with family members who abused alcohol were also more likely to show alcohol and hard drug abuse or dependence in adolescence (Kilpatrick, et al 2000). Perceived control and cognitive coping buffered adolescents' initiation of substance use from parents' alcoholism (Hussong and Chassin, 1997). Other research has shown that family cohesion is important in mitigating the relationship between stress that accompanies a parent's substance use disorder and adolescent substance use (Su, et al., 1997).

Adult children of alcoholics (ACOAs) are still affected by this factor in terms of their close relationships. Having an alcoholic parent is associated with earlier marriages, increased marital problems, and greater likelihood of divorcing in adulthood (Dawson, Grant, and Harford, 1992; Goodwin, et al 1977; Parker and Harford, 1988).

The connection between parental or familial alcoholism and later alcohol-related problems is well established. Dawson, Harford, and Grant (1992), after adjusting for age, race, sex, and poverty, found that compared with respondents with a negative family history, the odds of alcohol dependence increased by 45 percent among persons with alcoholism only in 2nd or 3rd degree relatives (i.e., biological grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephew, or other blood relatives) and by 86 percent among those with alcoholism only in 1st degree relatives (i.e., biological parents, siblings, or children) (see also Grant, 1998). Effects of parental alcoholism on young adult substance use disorder and accelerated heavy alcohol use in adolescence is in part mediated by conduct problems (Chassin, et al 1999; Hussong, Curran, and Chassin, 1998). There is also some evidence that ACOAs are at increased risk for a drug use disorder (Gotham and Sher, 1996).