Role development in adult children of alcoholics: An experimental design
Sherman, William Joseph
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Several theorists over the past two decades have hypothesized that adult children of alcoholics (ACOAs) adopt differing roles in order to deal with the traumatizing effects of parental alcoholism. While these roles and their developmental influences have been cogently described in the clinical literature, their empirical basis has yet to be convincingly determined. The purpose of the present study was to develop a psychometric scale capable of differentiating between, and therefore supporting the existence of, two of the four proposed role groups of adult children: Responsible and Acting-Out ACOAs.;Eighty-five adult children of alcoholics, representing the two role groups of interest and recruited from newspaper advertisements, a suburban county medical center, and two local branches of an Alcoholism Treatment Service, were asked to complete questionnaires. The questionnaires consisted of demographic questions, the Children of Alcoholics Screening Test (Jones, 1983), the Two Factor Index of Social Position (Hollingshead, 1957), and a scale, constructed by the present author from characteristics of ACOAs described in the clinical literature and referred to here as the Adult Children of Alcoholics Survey (ACAS).;Results of the study indicated that items in the questionnaire with the highest factor loadings (n = 20) were indeed capable of discriminating between the two groups of ACOAs. However, findings also indicated the existence of one bipolar continuum of ACOA role development, rather than the hypothesized two. While results further indicated that Responsible ACOAs scored significantly higher on average on the 20 items of the revised ACAS than their Acting-Out peers, the convergent validity of the new scale was not supported.;Various clinicians base their treatment of adult children of alcoholics on role development theory. Results from the present study strengthen the validity of these treatments, but also indicate the inter-dependence of the roles. Further research is needed not only to add to the reliability and validity of the ACAS, but also to gain a clearer understanding of the relationships between ACOA roles adopted, treatments provided, and observed clinical outcomes.