Adolescent Children of Alcoholics: Vulnerable or Resilient?
BACKGROUND: Children of alcoholics (COAs) have been described as both vulnerable and resilient. Although identified as at-risk for mental and physical health problems, chemical dependency, and child abuse and neglect, many go on to lead successful lives.
OBJECTIVE: The relationship between COA status and various adolescent risk behaviors, such as drug and alcohol abuse and early sexual activity, was assessed by addressing the following research question: Could parental alcoholism be a risk factor for teens engaging in risky behaviors?
RESULTS: Adolescent COAs scored significantly lower on all psychosocial factors of family/ personal strengths and school bonding and significantly higher on all factors of at-risk temperament, feelings, thoughts, and behaviors than non-COAs.
CONCLUSIONS: Adolescent COAs are at risk for depression, suicide, eating disorders, chemical dependency, and teen pregnancy. It has been proposed that healthcare professionals teach core resiliency factors to promote healthy behaviors for this vulnerable population.
- Children of addicted parents are the highest risk group of children to become alcohol and drug abusers because of both genetic and family environment factors.
Twenty-two percent of the combined sample identified themselves as a child of an alcoholic. This is consistent with current estimates of children of parental alcoholics, which is calculated to be 22%. In another recent study among 595 African American boys age 13 to 17 years, identified that 23% of the participating teens were COAs. The National Association of Children of Alcoholics estimates that there are 11 million COAs under 18 years of age.
COA’s scored lower on psychosocial factors;
- Family cohesion
- Education and school bonding
- Family adaptability
COA’s scored higher on risk factors;
- Negative temperament
- Negative self directed feelings, thoughts and behaviours
- Drug and alcohol use
- Sexual behaviours
COA’s scored higher on negative self directed feelings, thoughts and behaviours
- Depression and hopelessness
- Takes physical risks
- Feels excited doing risky things
- Thought of suicide in last year
- Tried suicide in last year