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  • Print publication year: 2003
  • Online publication date: June 2012

4 - Resilience and Vulnerability among Sons of Alcoholics: Relationship to Developmental Outcomes between Early Childhood and Adolescence



Children of alcoholics (COAs) are at substantially elevated risk for alcoholism in adulthood (Goodwin, 1979; Russell, 1990). Behavioral and cognitive deficits have also been identified as more common in this population (Fitzgerald et al., 1993; Sher, 1991; West & Prinz, 1987) and are of interest as possible mediators of later alcohol abuse and alcoholism. However, simply contrasting COAs and non-COAs does not enhance our understanding of the developmental course leading to such psychosocial outcomes. Although numerous studies have provided evidence for increased rates of alcohol-related difficulties among COAs, some have not observed differences in either drinking behavior or behavioral impairment (Alterman, Searles, & Hall, 1989; Bates & Pandina, 1992; Gillen & Hesselbrock, 1992; Pandina & Johnson, 1989). These discrepancies are likely due to the variable backgrounds of alcoholic parents, the multiple risks they transmit to their offspring, and the individual characteristics of the children. In fact, such discrepancies have increasingly led to the position that the COA population varies on a number of dimensions of vulnerability, and the manner in which the dimensions cluster produces considerable heterogeneity in the population.

In this vein, a number of parental alcoholism characteristics have been linked to adverse behavioral and cognitive child outcomes. Zucker and colleagues (Zucker, Ellis, Bingham, & Fitzgerald, 1996a) have observed that psychosocial outcomes among COAs varied as a function of the presence or absence of paternal comorbid antisocial behavior, with poorer outcomes uniformly present among children whose parent(s) were antisocial as well as alcoholic.

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