Parent’s alcoholism severity and family topic avoidance about alcohol as predictors of perceived stigma among adult children of alcoholics: Implications for emotional and psychological resilience

Marie C. Haverfield, Jennifer A. Theiss

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


ABSTRACT: Alcoholism is a highly stigmatized condition, with both alcohol-dependent individuals and family members of the afflicted experiencing stigmatization. This study examined the severity of a parent’s alcoholism and family topic avoidance about alcohol as two factors that are associated with family members’ perceptions of stigma. Three dimensions of stigma were considered: discrimination stigma, disclosure stigma, and positive aspect stigma. In addition, this study assessed associations between perceived stigmatization and individuals’ experiences of depressive symptoms, self-esteem, and resilience. Adult children of alcoholics (N = 622) were surveyed about family conditions, perceived stigma, and their emotional and psychological well-being. Regression analyses revealed that the severity of a parent’s alcoholism predicted all three types of stigma for females, but not for males. In addition, family topic avoidance about alcohol predicted all types of stigma for males and discrimination stigma and positive aspect stigma for females. With few exceptions, the three types of stigma predicted depressive symptoms, self-esteem, and resilience for both male and female adult children of alcoholics. The results are discussed in terms of their implications for promoting a family environment that mitigates stigma and encourages emotional and psychological well-being. In 2012, approximately 3.3 million deaths worldwide were due to the harmful use of alcohol (World Health Organization [WHO], 2014). Individuals who abuse alcohol are susceptible to a variety of negative health outcomes (Rehm et al., 2009) and display inappropriate social behaviors (Klingemann, 2001; Schomerus et al., 2011a). General societal perceptions tend to characterize alcohol-dependent individuals as irresponsible and lacking in self-control (Schomerus et al., 2011b). Research in the United Kingdom found that 54% of the population believes alcohol-dependent individuals are personally to blame for their own problems (Crisp, Gelder, Goddard, & Meltzer, 2005). In the United States, a person’s own bad character or the way they were raised are more likely to be identified as reasons for alcoholism than they are for other types of mental illness (Schnittker, 2008). In addition, people prefer greater social distance between themselves and alcoholics than between themselves and people with mental illness (Crisp et al., 2005). The negative social perceptions of alcoholics likely contribute to feelings of stigma (Room, 2005). Not only does stigma affect the afflicted individual, but also members of his or her family (WHO, 2014). Children of parents with an alcohol dependency may be reluctant to discuss a parent’s alcoholism with others if they feel pressured to keep it a secret or to avoid negative stereotypes (Afifi & Olson, 2005; Burk & Sher, 1990; Caughlin & Petronio, 2004; Lam & O’Farrell, 2011). Thus, the stigma of a parent’s alcoholism may prevent children from addressing concerns and coping with their surroundings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)606-616
Number of pages11
JournalHealth Communication
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 3 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health(social science)
  • Communication


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