The Experiences of Adult Children of 'Alcoholics'
Background: A wealth of quantitative literature exists exploring the impact of parental alcohol misuse on adult and child offspring. It is often proposed that children of alcoholics are at risk of experiencing a host of negative outcomes, many of which are said to persist into adulthood. Confusing and contradictory results have led researchers to identify a subset of offspring deemed to be resilient. Little remains known about the factors that influence who becomes negatively affected and who becomes resilient, or how these factors are experienced by individuals. The recent up rise of qualitative methodologies also suggest this divide is not clear, with offspring of alcoholics demonstrating a range of functioning. Aim: With this in mind, the current study aims to explore the lived experience of adult children of alcoholics to gather a richer understanding of how these individuals develop into the people they are today. Method: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with six individuals who grew up with at least one alcoholic parent. Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis was used to analyse verbatim transcripts. Results: The analysis produced four master themes. These were: ‘Dealing with the loss of connection to parents’, ‘Feeling hopeless and helpless’, Struggling to stay sane’ and ‘I know who I want to be more than I know who I am’. The master themes and corresponding subordinate themes are discussed in relation to the relevant literature. Clinical implications, methodological considerations and directions for future research are also presented. Conclusions: This study provided insight into the lived experience of being an adult child of an alcoholic. It highlighted the challenges and struggles they faced in childhood and the ways in which they battled to overcome the difficulties they experienced to forge a preferred identity in adulthood. It also emphasised the importance of perceived parental rejection as the pathway to causing distress and the desire to be better than their parents as a pathway to resiliency.