A comparative study of coping patterns in adolescent children of alcoholics and nonalcoholics
Mental health professionals who work with children of alcoholics have observed that these children utilize rigid, maladaptive coping strategies which interfere with many aspects of their functioning and put them at risk for numerous personal and social difficulties. However, little research has been done to confirm that the coping strategies of children of alcoholics differ significantly from those of other children or to pinpoint specifically where those differences lie. In this study, coping patterns of children of alcoholics (COAs) have been examined and compared to those of children of nonalcoholics (CNAs) in an effort to further investigate COA coping behaviors and to more fully understand the programmatic needs of this population.
Subjects included 34 COAs and 39 CNAs, all adolescents 15 through 18 years of age who were recent enrollees in a high school program for students experiencing stress. Participants completed a battery of paper and pencil instruments which assessed aspects of coping including: alcohol involvement, defensive style, family-related coping patterns, quality of coping responses, and perceived social support from friends.
Hypothesized global differences between the coping patterns of COAs and CNAs were not found. Instead, overall differences were minimal. More significant differences were found to depend on gender. Female COAs showed greater dysfunction than same-sex peers on family-related coping and perception of peer support variables, whereas male COAs differed from male peers on quality of coping response variables.
These findings challenge previous formulations of COAs which assume global coping dysfunction. Results also show that gender is a significant variable to address when developing COA programs. Further research regarding the role of gender in the coping patterns of COAs is suggested. In order to offer more effective, individualized treatment approaches, administration of a test battery comparable to that utilized in this study is recommended as an intake procedure for adolescent COA programs.