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Children of Alcoholics - A Review of the Literature

NCJ Number
M Russell; C Henderson; S B Blume
Date Published
75 pages
This review of the literature on children of alcoholics focuses on genetic factors in alcoholism, effects of parental alcohol abuse on the embryo and fetus, familial transmission of psychiatric and physical disorders associated with alcoholism, characteristics of alcoholic families, prevention and treatment, and ethics and public policy issues.
Numerous studies of genetic factors in alcoholism have indicated higher rates of alcoholism, by whatever criteria used, in the parents, grandparents, siblings, children, and more distant relatives of people suffering from alcoholism, when compared to the relatives of nonalcoholics. Animal research and some preliminary human research have provided clues to the interrelations between heredity and alcohol intake. Considerable animal research is also focusing on the mechanisms involved in alcohol toxicity to the fetus. Family studies have examined relationships between alcohol problems and depression, sociopathy, other psychiatric syndromes, and a variety of neuropsychological traits. Family studies have also considered the lives of children of alcoholic parents, family dynamics, child abuse and neglect, and the effects of parental alcoholism on children. Primary prevention, screening of children, and treatment for various family members have been studied as well. Ethical and public policy issues which have been investigated include the identification of subjects at risk, confidentiality issues, health insurance, consent for treatment, mandated treatment for alcoholic parents, and public recommendations about drinking during pregnancy. Reference lists for each section, a description of the Children of Alcoholics Foundation, an appendix presenting a consensus statement from the 1984 conference on the subject, and an evaluation form are included.