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Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOAs) vs. Non-ACOAs: A Quantitative Study

By June 24, 2017March 29th, 2021Article

*The following is a brief summary of my dissertation, titled “A Quantitative Comparison of Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOAs) and Non-ACOAs on Attachment.”

Children who grow up in an environment where at least one parent is an alcoholic can experience behavioral and emotional problems that continue into adulthood. A critical literature gap concerning the relationship between attachment and adult child of an alcoholic (ACOA) status, as well as personal alcohol abuse and levels of hope, was identified. The purpose of my study was to gain a better understanding of the influence of having alcoholic parents on personal alcohol abuse, attachment, and hope among ACOAs. Informed by attachment theory, my cross-sectional study compared attachment among ACOAs and non-ACOAs and the impact of attachment on personal alcohol abuse and hope.

Attachment theory holds that the quality of attachment to one’s parents, which develops in infancy, affects an individual’s ability to form healthy attachments in adulthood (Lander, Howsare, & Byrne, 2013), which is supported and reflected in the results of this study, as ACOAs reported more avoidant and anxious attachments to their mothers and fathers and anxious attachment with their significant other. Findings were consistent with results reported by previous studies affirming that ACOAs are more likely to develop alcoholism when compared to adults whose parents were not alcoholics (Anda et al., 2002; Bifulco et al., 2006; Haverfield & Theiss, 2014, 2015; World Health Organization [WHO], 2014). As previously noted, no studies have examined the relationship between ACOA status and hope; thus, the results of my study offer a significant contribution, as ACOAs were found to have lower levels of hope when compared to non-ACOAs.

The findings of my study could be used to address the social problem and growing epidemic of alcoholism. Alcoholism is a highly stigmatized disease that affects not only those dependent on alcohol, but also family members, friends, and all those close to such individuals. Although ACOAs have little to no control over the presence and severity of their parents’ dependency and are likely unaware of its residual effects, finding ways to reframe the illness is crucial in the promotion of more positive outcomes. With an enhanced understanding of the experiences of ACOAs, clinicians and other professionals may contribute to more fully developed treatments for ACOAs. The recognition of alcoholism as an uncontrollable disease by not only those closely affected, but also the population as a whole, will allow for less stigma. A decrease in stigma may encourage more ACOAs to speak up and reach out to others, thus improving the likelihood of overcoming the hardships associated with having an alcoholic parent (Haverfield & Theiss, 2015).

Of particular importance, the current findings suggest that children raised by alcoholic parents are likely to carry the problematic effects of their upbringing into adulthood. The current findings suggest that the children of alcoholics may likely be more affected than the alcoholics themselves. By considering children when addressing the effects of alcoholism, even if only from an educational or preventative perspective, the knowledge base can be broadened across the board in order to address the increasing number of individuals negatively affected by alcoholism.

For more information or to read the study in its entirety, please contact me at:

Carly Rodgers, Ph.D.