Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Control, Attachment Style, and Relationship Satisfaction among Adult Children of Alcoholics. (Research)

Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Control, Attachment Style, and Relationship Satisfaction among Adult Children of Alcoholics. (Research)

Article excerpt

This study investigated possible differences in need for control, attachment style, and relationship satisfaction between a sample of adult children of alcoholics (ACOAs, 18 males and 22 females) and a sample of adult children of nonalcoholics (ACONAs, 10 males and 30 females). Preliminary analyses revealed that need for control, attachment style, and relationship satisfaction were significantly correlated across the board for both the ACOA and ACONA groups. A multivariate analysis of variance revealed that the two groups differed significantly on the dependent variables of need for control and relationship satisfaction, with the ACOAs reporting a significantly higher need for control and significantly lower relationship satisfaction. A discussion of the theoretical, clinical, and research implications for mental health counselors is also included.


Although alcoholics in the United States number some 8 to 10 million, in reality the disease of alcoholism affects an estimated 30 million others, including family members and offspring (Woodside, 1988). However, it is only in the past decade or so that this peripheral population has been targeted for study by the mental health profession. In particular, several identifiable patterns of interpersonal discomfort and intrapsychic conflict among adult children of alcoholics (ACOAs) have been explored in the existing literature (Domenico & Windle, 1993; Wright & Heppner, 1993). In fact, the past 10 years have yielded a growing number of studies exploring the potential connection between control issues and relationship problems among adult children of alcoholics (Brown, 1988; Knoblauch, 1990).

The literature is consistent in defining ACOAs as adults from a family with alcoholic parent(s), grandparent(s), and/or other family member (Kritzberg, 1990). One of the most reasonable theories for conceptualizing the problem of treating this population views alcoholism as a systemic process in which the entire family is affected. Family systems theory is based on the notion that a feedback mechanism exists that continuously monitors the family state. Thus, children who grow up in alcoholic homes learn to monitor the family climate and engage in behaviors designed to minimize the conflict and chaos that are such a part of the alcoholic family environment. Unfortunately, the ensuing maladaptive cycle keeps family members from confronting significant issues, and the persistent pressure to constantly reassess the balance in the family system, in turn, leads to rigid, controlling behaviors that interfere with individual growth and differentiation and the formation of healthy relationships (Bepko & Krestan, 1985).

Publications by Woititz (1989) and Cermak and Brown (1982) have echoed this theme by suggesting that it is the inconsistency and chaos in alcoholic families that leads to the perpetuation of maladaptive behaviors into adulthood as ACOAs begin to settle into families of their own. As a result of growing up in a dysfunctional environment, the interpersonal functioning of ACOAs is often characterized by a dependence on the approval of others, thereby circumventing the development of a stable sense of self and personal control. In order to fill this interpersonal vacuum, ACOAs may exhibit behaviors shaped by a need for control, denial, rationalization, and compulsivity (Friel, 1988).

Recently, articles have begun to address more directly the issue of control among ACOAs and the ensuing negative effects on the formation of intimate relationships (Shapiro, Weatherford, Kaufman, & Broenen, 1994; Sheridan & Green, 1993). However, no empirical studies have focused on the possible contribution of attachment style in illuminating and clarifying the dynamics of control and relationship issues among this population. For example, attachment theorists assert that the sense of security in any attachment relationship depends on the quality of responsiveness between the relationship partners (El-Guebaly, West, Maticka-Tyndale, & Pool, 1993). …

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