Alcoholism is a major contributor to dysfunction in families today. Research has shown that children who are born to an alcoholic family are adversely affected by alcoholism in their development (Baker and Stephenson, 1995). Children of alcoholics possess a greater risk of acquiring alcoholism as a result of their parent¡¦s alcoholism (Reich, 1997). Within the body of this paper, this thesis will be supported. The text of this paper will list and describe risk factors in the transmission of alcoholism from parent to child, both specifically related to alcohol use and influences of a psychosocial nature.
It has been speculated for some time that alcoholism has biological roots, being passed down to children from generation to generation. Whether the influence is hereditary, environmental, or a combination of both factors has not yet been definitively proven. Studies conducted in the 1950's and 1960's on the continuance of alcoholism in families pointed to environmental causes, such as deficient parenting, lack of positive role models, and poor home lives. Since the 1970¡¦s however, researchers studied the possible genetic components of inheriting alcoholism. Studies were conducted using identical and fraternal twins, half-siblings, and children of adoption and focused on the development of alcoholism in these children. Reich states that these studies have provided proof that genetic factors do play an important part in the acquisition of alcoholism and that alcoholism can be transmitted familially (Reich, 1997).
More research has been conducted that clearly shows the vulnerability of children born into alcoholic families in becoming alcoholic. According to Reich, when comparing children from alcoholic families to children from nonalcoholic families, children of alcoholics have four times the risk of becoming alcoholic themselves (Reich, 1997).
Ellis and Zucker believe genetic risk factors play a role in the acquisition of alcoholism, such as physiological responses to alcohol, and the process of metabolization. They feel inherited biology is a significant area where familial influence can influence a child in developing alcoholism. However, Ellis and Zucker go on to say that the child¡¦s psychosocial environment cannot be ignored, since there is much familial influence in this realm as well (Ellis & Zucker, 1997).
Family has a vital role in molding a child¡¦s future drinking behavior through the parents¡¦ behavioral example in using alcohol. Ellis and Zuckerman also cite the importance of the ways in which the parents sort out, understand, and teach their children the norms and standards of the general public in regards to alcohol. Ellis and Zuckerman wrote, ¡§Accordingly, the modeling of parental drinking behavior, the development of alcohol expectancies, and ethnic differences in drinking practices all make up the environmental family influence that are related to children of alcoholics alcohol use¡¨ [electronic version].