Academic journal article Health and Social Work

Coping with Stressful Events: Influence of Parental Alcoholism and Race in a Community Sample of Women

Academic journal article Health and Social Work

Coping with Stressful Events: Influence of Parental Alcoholism and Race in a Community Sample of Women

Article excerpt

More stressful childhood home environments reported among families with alcoholic parents (Fergusson, Lynskey, & Horwood, 1996; Kelleher, Chaffin, Hollenberg, & Fischer, 1994; Menees & Segrin, 2000) suggest less functional coping and weaker personal and social resources in adult offspring. Alternatively, high stress can increase resilience (Harter, 2000; Segrin & Menees, 1996). Although being raised by alcoholic parents increases the risk of adverse adult outcomes, impairment is not inevitable (Griffin, Amodeo, Fassler, Ellis, & Clay, 2005). Practitioners could benefit from knowing whether offspring of alcoholic parents cope differently so that they could avoid underestimating or overestimating the effect of parental alcoholism on clients.

Among women with alcoholic parents, race differences in coping are unclear. Black women, less studied than white women, might cope more effectively because of greater support from kin and fictive kin (Haley et al., 1995), or less effectively because of lower socioeconomic status (Proctor & Dalaker, 2003) and their likely experiences of racism and discrimination. Alternatively, commonalities in the experience of living with alcoholic parents may reduce coping differences between black and white women. Understanding racial differences could help practitioners better focus mental health treatment and prevention approaches, targeting services to those in need.

This article focuses on women raised in two-parent families to address gaps in the literature. Coping methods and coping loci were examined as well as the influence of childhood stressors (for example, physical abuse) and resources (for example, adolescent social support) on current adulthood coping, and the influence of the childhood coping resources of self-esteem and social support on current adulthood coping.


Researchers and clinicians have long been interested in how psychological factors such as coping moderate the relationship between everyday stressors and emotional and physical illness (Somerfield & McCrea, 2000). More recently, interest has shifted to factors contributing to resilience or resistance to illness in spite of high levels of stress (Holahan & Moos, 1990). Coping may be a crucial process in stress resistance; for example, engaging in positive health practices can delay illness, and using social support and other constructive coping can reduce mental health symptoms after major losses and trauma (Holahan & Moos, 1994; Moos, 2002; Perrott, Morris, Martin, & Romans, 1998; Somerfield & McCrea). Coping refers to what a person actually thinks and does in a situation (Folkman & Lazarus, 1980), that is, the thoughts and actions people undertake on their own behalf as they attempt to avoid or lessen the impact of life problems. Coping serves to change the situation, to manage the meaning of the situation to reduce the threat, or to keep the symptoms within manageable bounds; coping can help with discrete events or continuing problems (Pearlin & Schooler, 1978).

Approach and Avoidant Coping

Approach coping reflects cognitive and behavioral efforts to master or resolve life stressors; avoidant coping involves attempts to deny, minimize, or escape the stressful situation (Moos, 1992b). Approach coping is considered to be superior to avoidant coping (Kobasa, Maddi, & Kahn, 1982; Moos & Billings, 1982) because it is associated with more self-confidence and less dysfunction (Moos, 2002). Moos recently concluded that although some evidence suggests that both approach and avoidant coping may contribute to adaptation, approach coping may lead to more positive psychosocial outcomes. In psychodynamic theory, avoidance is widely seen as a costly coping method (Consedine, Magai, & Bonanno, 2002). Empirical studies support this view: Greater family conflict was found among alcoholic patients and their spouses who relied on avoidant coping, and their children had more emotional problems (Moos, Finney, & Cronkite, 1990). …

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