African American Adult Children of Alcoholics: The Impact of Cultural Influences

By Harley, Debra A. | The Journal of Rehabilitation, October 1995 | Go to article overview

African American Adult Children of Alcoholics: The Impact of Cultural Influences


Harley, Debra A., The Journal of Rehabilitation


Introduction

A discussion of African American adult children of alcoholics (ACOAs) must be devised within a cultural context. Cultural factors define specific parameters of African American ideological unity and response to mainstream constructs of behavior. African American experiences summarize the uniqueness of the population that make them a culturally identifiable entity (Anderson, 1986). Butler (1992) described the experiences of African Americans along two dimensions: "one in terms of interactions and responses to interactions with European Americans and the other in terms of their own internal dynamics, both as individual personalities and as a collective group" (p. 25). African American experiences include environmental displacement, psychological disorientation, racism, and socio-cultural disruption (Butler, 1992; Mosley, Atkins, Klein, 1988; Wright, 1988).

While African American ACOAs are not a homogeneous group, they do exhibit a cluster of characteristics that systematically define addiction-related problems with unique cultural attributes that are pivotal in facilitating an exploration of cultural functioning and influences. While there is some given to alcoholism and addiction among African Americans, little specific focus has been given to the role of culture in behavior among African American ACOAs. The paucity of on African American ACOAs and cultural influences on their functioning and behaviors serve as a requisite for this article. The purpose of this article is to examine cultural factors that influence the functioning of African American ACOAs. This will be done with specific focus on survival roles, identity development, kinship bonds, and community perception of alcohol use. Implications for rehabilitation also will be provided.

Survival Roles

Survival roles refer to behavioral strategies employed by children in alcoholic homes as a manner of coping with the alcoholic's behavior and its effects on others. As children grow older, they continue to perform the same strategies in adulthood that they used as children. Survival roles include the family hero, scapegoat, lost child, and mascot (Wegscheider, 1981). In addition to the characteristics of these roles, the significance of culture for African American ACOAs have a substantial impact on family functioning.

The family hero is typically the eldest or only child in an alcoholic family. This child is respected and held in high regard because of the ability to take care of everything and perform well. African American ACOAs in this role earn respect in the community (Hill, 1972). Alston and Turner (1994) asserted that the feeling of being responsible is a source of satisfaction for those providing assistance or support to the family. Brisbane (1988) pointed out that the African American female, because of culture, will also assume the role of hero in healthy family functioning and is unlikely to seek help for her problem because of the rewards of praise from the family for being responsible.

The scapegoat behaves in a destructive manner and serves as a sponge who absorbs all of the adversities within the family. Based on this information it can be hypothesized that African American ACOAs continue to play this role as a result of accusations from within and without the family. For example, the family may continue to blame the scapegoat for all of its problems, or for individual lack of achievement which violates the sense of excellence which governs the necessity to achieve the highest honor in African American families. Likewise, racism, oppression, and other deviant forms of social interaction interrupted the transitional stages from childhood to adulthood through the delegation of African Americans as lazy, unmotivated, and less intelligent.

The lost child avoids trouble and is ignored by the family and' left to face problems alone. The individual avoids making close connections in the family or friends with other people, and lacks adequate social skills (Murphy, 1984).

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