Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Abusive Drinking in Young Adults: Personality Type and Family Role as Moderators of Family-of-Origin Influences

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Abusive Drinking in Young Adults: Personality Type and Family Role as Moderators of Family-of-Origin Influences

Article excerpt

The fact that society is surprised when a "resilient" child emerges from a dysfunctional family reflects our limited understanding of the power of role assignments and the enduring quality of personality type, forces that interact with the influences of dysfunctional families to alter outcomes (Tarter, 1988). The important question in studies of family socialization may not be the general one, "What is the impact of family functioning on offspring?" but rather, "Which children are more influenced by the family of origin and what are these effects?" This study is an example of research developed in a particular area that has been guided by this latter, more specific question.

There are various ways to conceptualize family roles (Sarbin & Allen, 1968), but for purposes of this study the conceptualization of roles comes from the literature on children of alcoholics (Black, 1981; Wegscheider, 1981): hero, mascot, lost child, and scapegoat. Widely accepted in the self-help, 12-step community, these role descriptions of children of alcoholics have generated little research until recently (Potter & Williams, 1991), although researchers have used related terms for similar concepts (e.g., Burk & Sher, 1988; Werner, 1986).

West and Prinz's (1987) and von Knorring's (1991) recent reviews of research on children of alcoholics described parental alcoholism as disruptive to families; however, von Knorring concluded that "the nature of the link between children's specific outcome and parental alcoholism is more vague" (p. 417). In a more general context, Baron and Kenny (1986) noted that moderator variables may be important when there are weak or inconsistent associations between predictor and criterion variables. Thus, a better understanding of child outcomes may be possible if the child's role in the family and the child's personality type (Rogosch, Chassin, & Sher, 1990) are examined as moderators of the impact of family alcoholism.

Conflicting findings reported in studies of children of alcoholics (described by Stacy, Newcomb, & Bentler, 1991) may be attributed to the failure to assess moderating variables such as family role and individual personality type of the sample. For example, more scapegoats and lost children would be expected in a prison sample of children of alcoholics whereas more heroes would be expected among employees of an engineering department of a large corporation (cf. Werner & Broida, 1991). Similar analyses could be made of children of chronically depressed parents (Downey & Coyne, 1990) or children from other problematic backgrounds.

An implication from the children of alcoholics literature is that a family with alcoholism is also a family that is dysfunctional. The overall pattern of addictions in the family is related to family dysfunction (Wampler, Fischer, Thomas, & Lyness, 1993), and both are related to negative offspring outcomes. However, not all dysfunctional families also have alcoholic parents. In contrast, Wright and Heppner (1993) found that parental alcoholism and family dysfunction constituted separate dimensions. Offspring from alcoholic and nonalcoholic families reported a wide range of family functioning, and parental alcoholism and family dysfunction were responded to differently. These studies underscore the importance of examining both addictions and dysfunctions in the family of origin.



The agents of the family system direct the assignment of roles in a family to ensure its continued operation (Scarr & Grajek, 1982). Dysfunctional families are viewed as assigning roles to children without regard to the child's needs or characteristics (Black, 1981) or the cost to the child. Even when a child plays a "positive" role, a negative price is often exacted (Wegscheider, 1981). For example, the hero must continue to be "good" at the cost of high anxiety and compulsiveness (Fischer, Spann, & Crawford, 1991). …

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