Item from the Smart Marriages Archive, reproduced in the Divorce Statistics Collection

November 19, 1998

Alcoholics' kids face marital woes

Study says abuse tied to woes in dating


By Jeff Call Deseret News staff writer

      PROVO - Alcoholic parents place their young children's future dating and marital
relationships in serious peril, according to studies conducted by a BYU professor.      

Jeffry H. Larson, director of BYU's Marriage and Family Therapy Program, has co-written two
studies revealing that young adult children of alcoholics have a more negative attitude toward
marriage and suffer more problems in the dating and marriage setting than young adult children
of nonalcoholics.      

He says the abusive behavior of alcoholic parents can severely impact their children's lives.      

"One person out of control can do a lot of damage to a lot of people," Larson said. "That trauma
is transferred to the children's relationships. One alcoholic parent can affect many people,
including dating and marriage partners as well as extended family relationships.      

"A parent's alcohol addiction is so harmful to children because it can cause emotional distancing
and the lack of appropriate role models."      

Larson was to present his findings, titled "Dating Behaviors, Attitudes and Relationship
Satisfaction of Young Adult Children of Alcoholics," at the National Council on Family
Relations in Milwaukee, Wis., Monday.      

The paper, co-written by professors and professionals from the University of Kentucky, Cal
State-Long Beach, BYU and Latter-day Saint Social Services, compares the dating habits of
young adult children of alcoholics to those of young adults who are not children of alcoholics.  

The research shows that adult children of alcoholics have fewer dating partners and more anxiety
about dating than children of nonalcoholics. Hesitancy to call a potential date and fear of initiating
intimacy (such as kissing) are common traits among such adult children.      

Although adult children of alcoholics are more apprehensive about dating, Larson says, they
actually date an average of almost one year earlier than adult children of nonalcoholics and marry
younger, explaining it "may reflect the perception of dating as an escape from an unpleasant

In addition, such adult children perceive marriage as more difficult and see themselves as less
prepared for marriage than other children.      

"Young children learn about the role of husband and wife largely from observing their parents as
role models," Larson said. "The lack of healthy role modeling from addicted parents creates
feelings of vulnerability and anxiety, because youth are taught to repress expressions of
intimacy, affection and self-disclosure as these expressions are developing."      

Larson says similar studies have been conducted before. But the difference with this study is it
examines nonclinical subjects - people who are not in counseling.      

Researchers interviewed 943 young adult college students who had never been married, ages
18-25. The majority of those questioned live in California and Kentucky, Larson said. Seventeen
percent of the subjects were Utahns.      

When Larson worked at the BYU counseling center, he occasionally met with students who were
children of alcoholics.      

"They would come and tell me about how they were depressed and had dating troubles," he said.
"They would also tell me about how they came from an abusive household. So I started reading
literature on the topic. It's grim stuff."      

He added that there is a high correlation between alcoholism and cases of abuse, violence and
neglect. "Kids in those situations live in a war zone," Larson said. And as they grow older, that
background hinders their ability to create and maintain a stable relationship.      

Other researchers have discovered that male adult children of alcoholics are 40 percent more
likely to divorce than other males and female adult children of alcoholics are 30 percent more
likely to get divorced than other females, Larson said.      

"If adult children of alcoholics are dating younger and marrying earlier, while at the same time
holding negative attitudes about marriage and their personal preparedness for marriage, then it is
likely they will experience poor marital adjustment and satisfaction," he said.      

Larson calls alcohol "the most abused drug in the nation because it is so easy to acquire."

| Smart Marriages Archive | New Divorce Statistics and Studies Blog | Older Divorce Statistics Collection Archive |