Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal

, Volume 28, Issue 2, pp 133–151 | Cite as

Adolescent Children of Alcoholics on Disclosure, Support, and Assessment of Trustworthy Adults

  • Agneta TinnfältEmail author
  • Charli Eriksson
  • Elinor Brunnberg


The aim of this study is to describe adolescent children of alcoholics’ (COA) perspectives on disclosure and support. COA reported assessing the trustworthiness of adults before disclosing their home situation. Before disclosure they may have raised their own level of consciousness, told a peer, told an adult stranger, or in-directly communicated with an adult. These findings are the result of interviews with 27 adolescents attending support groups for COA in Sweden. Adults, who ask questions, listen carefully and cooperate with the child/adolescent, and who are knowledgeable about families with alcohol problems, are considered as supportive and trustworthy. The adolescents reported psychological, communicative, environmental, and generational aspects of the disclosure process.


Bronfenbrenner Dialogue Identification Narrative Process 



The authors are very grateful to the adolescents who so willingly participated in this study. The School of Health and Medical Sciences, and Stiftelsen Solstickan, Swedish Match, supported the study.


  1. Armstrong, C., Hill, M., & Secker, J. (2000). Young people’s perceptions of mental health. Children and Society, 14, 60–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Backlund, Å. (2007). Elevvård i grundskolan: resurser, organisering och praktik. [Pupil welfare in Swedish schools: Resources, organization and practice]. Doctoral thesis. Stockholm: Stockholm University.Google Scholar
  3. Black, C. (2007). COA support groups. Retrieved May 15, 2007 from
  4. Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development: Experiments by nature and design. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Bronfenbrenner, U. (2000). Ecological systems theory. In A. Kazdin (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Psychology (pp. 129–133). Washington DC: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Brunnberg, E. (2005). Att tala med och lyssna på barn. In Regeringskansliet, Mötet med barnet. Barnkompetens inom hälso- och sjukvården (pp. 46–49). [Talking and listening to children.] Stockholm: Socialdepartementet.Google Scholar
  7. Brunnberg, E., Eriksson, C., & Tinnfält, A. (2007). Att ha minst en förälder som missbrukar alkohol. Om psykisk ohälsa och utvärderande interventioner. [Having at least one parent who abuses alcohol. About mental health problems and evaluated interventions.] Stockholm: Socialstyrelsen.Google Scholar
  8. Brunnberg, E., & Larsson Sjöberg, K. (2006). Barnrelaterade avhandlingar i socialt arbete 19802006. [Child-related dissertations in Social work 1980–2006]. Örebro: Örebro universitet.Google Scholar
  9. Casas-Gil, M. J., & Navarro-Guzman, J. I. (2002). School characteristics among children of alcoholic parents. Psychological Report, 90, 341–348.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Chalder, M., Elgar, F. J., & Bennett, P. (2005). Drinking and motivations to drink among adolescent children of parents with alcohol problems. Alcohol and Alcoholism, 41(1), 107–113.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Christensen, E. (1997). Aspects of a preventive approach to support children of alcoholics. Child Abuse Review, 6, 24–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Collins, S. J., Griffiths, S., & Kumalo, M. (2005). Patterns of disclosure in child sexual abuse. South African Journal of Psychology, 35(2), 270–285.Google Scholar
  13. Cuijpers, P. (2005). Prevention programmes for children of problem drinkers: A review. Drugs: Education, Prevention and Policy, 12(6), 465–475.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. DeLucia, C., Belz, A., & Chassin, L. (2001). Do adolescent symptomatology and family environment vary over time with fluctuations in paternal alcohol impairment? Developmental Psychology, 37(1), 207–216.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Emshoff, J. G., & Valentine, L. (2006). Supporting adolescent children of alcoholics. The Prevention Researcher, 13(4), 18–20.Google Scholar
  16. Ferrer-Wreder, L., Stattin, H., Cass Lorente, C., Tubman, J., & Adamson, L. (2005). Framgångsrika preventionsprogram för barn och unga. En forskningsöversikt. [Successful prevention and youth development programs: Across borders.]. Institutet för utveckling av metoder i socialt arbete, Statens institutionsstyrelse and Förlagshuset Gothia.Google Scholar
  17. Fischerman, M. (2000). Identification of children from alcohol-affected homes. International Journal of Social Welfare, 9, 136–143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Gance-Cleveland, B. (2004). Qualitative evaluation of a school-based support group for adolescents with an addicted parent. Nursing Research, 53(6), 379–386.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Graneheim, U. H., & Lundman, B. (2004). Qualitative content analysis in nursing research: concepts, procedures and measures to achieve trustworthiness. Nurse Education Today, 24, 105–112.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Jensen, T. K., Gulbrandsen, W., Mossige, S., Reichelt, S., & Tjersland, O. A. (2005). Reporting possible sexual abuse: A qualitative study on children’s perspectives and the context for disclosure. Child Abuse and Neglect, 29(12), 1395–1413.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Johansson, A., Brunnberg, E., & Eriksson, C. (2007). Adolescent girls’ and boys’ perceptions of mental health. Journal of Youth Studies, 10(2), 183–202.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Johansson, A., & Ehnfors, M. (2006). Mental health promoting dialogue of school health nurses from the perspective of adolescent pupils. Nordic Journal of Nursing Research and Clinical Studies, 10(2), 10–13, 19.Google Scholar
  23. Kitzinger, J., & Barbour, R. (1999). Introduction: The challenge and promise of focus groups. In R. Barbour & J. Kitzinger (Eds.), Developing focus group research. Politics, theory and practice (pp. 1–20). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, Inc.Google Scholar
  24. Knight, S. M. (1993). Identifying and labelling school-aged children of alcoholics: Insights voiced by academic attainers who are daughters of alcoholics. Journal of Health Education, 24(4), 196–202.Google Scholar
  25. Kroll, B. (2004). Living with an elephant: Growing up with parental substance misuse. Child and Family Social Work, 9, 129–140.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Krueger, R. A. (1994). Focus groups. A practical guide for applied research (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, Inc.Google Scholar
  27. Kumpfer, K. L., Pinyuchon, M., Teixeira de Melo, A., & Whiteside, H. O. (2008). Cultural adaptation process for international dissemination of the Strengthening Families Program. Evaluation & the Health Professions, 31(2), 226–239.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Lambie, G., & Sias, S. (2005). Children of alcoholics: Implications for professional school counseling. Professional School Counselling, 3, 266–273.Google Scholar
  29. Lazarus, R. S. (1993). From psychological stress to the emotions: A history of changing outlooks. Annual Review Psychology, 44, 1–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Lindstein, T. (1997). Unga vid Vändpunkten. Att arbeta med ungdomar vars föräldrar missbrukar. [Young people at Vändpunkten. Working with adolescents whose parents are substance abusers]. Stockholm: Förlagshuset Gothia.Google Scholar
  31. Lindstein, T. (2001). Vändpunktenur barnens och ungdomarnas perspektiv. [Vändpunkten – From the perspective of the children and adolescents]. Stockholm: Förlagshuset Gothia. Google Scholar
  32. Lipsky, S., Caetano, R., Field, C. A., & Larkin, G. L. (2004). Psychosocial and substance-use risk factors for intimate partner violence. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 78(1), 39–47.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Madge, N., Hewitt, A., Hawton, K., de Wilde, E.J., Corcoran, P., Fekete, S., van Heeringen, K., De Leo, D., & Ystgaard, M. J. (2008). Deliberate self-harm within an international community sample of young people: Comparative findings from the Child & Adolescent Self-harm in Europe (CASE) Study. Child Psychology Psychiatry, 49(6), 667–677. Uxbridge, UK: School of Health Sciences and Social Care, Brunel University.Google Scholar
  34. Mathews, B., & Bros, D. (2008). Mandated reporting is still a policy with reason: Empirical evidence and philosophical grounds. Child Abuse and Neglect, 32, 511–516.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Morey, C. K. (1999). Children of alcoholics: A school-based comparative study. Journal of Drug Education, 29(1), 63–75.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Morgan, D. L. (1997). Focus groups as qualitative research. Newbury Park: Sage Publications, Inc.Google Scholar
  37. Murray, B. L. (1998). Perceptions of adolescents living with parental alcoholism. Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, 5, 525–534.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Mylant, M., Ide, B., Cuevas, E., & Meehan, M. (2002). Adolescent children of alcoholics: Vulnerable or resilient? Journal of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association., 8, 57–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Nastasi, B. K. (1995). Is early identification of children of alcoholics necessary for preventive intervention? Reaction to Havey and Dodd. Journal of School Psychiatry, 33(4), 327–345.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Nixon, M. K., Cloutier, P., & Jansson, M. (2008). Nonsuicidal self-harm in youth: A population-based survey. CMAJ, 178(3), 306–312.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  41. Omarzu, J. (2000). A disclosure decision model: Determining how and when individuals will self-disclose. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 4(2), 174–185.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Peleg-Oren, N. (2002a). Drugs—not here!—model of group intervention as preventive therapeutic tool for children of drug addicts. Journal of Drug Education, 32(3), 245–259.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Peleg-Oren, N. (2002b). Group intervention for children of drug-addicted parents—Using expressive techniques. Clinical Social Work Journal, 30(4), 403–418.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Poon, E., Ellis, D., Fitzgerald, H. E., & Zucker, R. A. (2000). Intellectual, cognitive, and academic performance among sons of alcoholics during the early school years: Differences related to subtypes of familial alcoholism. Alcoholism, Clinical and Experimental Research, 24(7), 1020–1027.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Riddle, J., & Bergin, J. J. (1997). Effect of group counselling on the self-concept of children of alcoholics. Elementary School Guidance & Counseling, 31(3), 192–203.Google Scholar
  46. Save the Children (2006). Barnets bästa kräver resurser!om kommunernas ansvar för barn som far illa. Rapport 4. När samhället sviker barn som far illa. [The best interests of the child requires resources!—About the responsibility of municipalities for children at risk of abuse and neglect.] Retrieved September 29, 2006 from
  47. Schukit, M. A., Smith, T. L., Hesselbrock, V., Bucholz, K. K., Bierut, L., Edenberg, H., et al. (2008). Clinical implications of tolerance to alcohol in nondependent young drinkers. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 34, 133–149.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Schukit, M. A., Smith, T. L., Pierson, J., Danko, G. P., Allen, R. C., & Kreikebaum, S. (2007). Patterns and correlates of drinking in offspring from the San Diego prospective study. Alcoholism, Clinical and Experimental Research, 31(10), 1681–1691.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. SFS 2001:453. Socialtjänstlagen. [The Social Welfare Act].Google Scholar
  50. SFS 2003:460. Law (2003:460) for ethical review of research involving humans. Retrieved October 11, 2010 from
  51. Shaoloub-Kevorkian, N. (2005). Disclosure of child abuse in conflict areas. Violence Against Women, 11, 1263–1291.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Skoog, T. (2008). On the developmental significance of female pubertal timing. Doctoral dissertation. Örebro University.Google Scholar
  53. Statham, J. (2004). Effective services to support children in special circumstances. Child: Care, Health and Development, 30(6), 589–598.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Svedin, C. G., & Back, C. (2003). Varför berättar de inte? Om att utnyttjas i barnpornografi. [Why don’t they tell? To be abused in child pornography.] Stockholm: Save the children.Google Scholar
  55. United Nations (1989). UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Retrieved March 7, 2010 from
  56. Velleman, R., & Orford, J. (1999). Risk and resilience, adults who were the children of problem drinkers. The Netherlands: Overseas Publishers Association.Google Scholar
  57. Webb, M., Heisler, D., Call, S., Chickering, S. A., & Colburn, T. A. (2007). Shame, guilt, symptoms of depression, and reported history of psychological maltreatment. Child Abuse and Neglect, 31, 1143–1153.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Werner, M. J., Joffe, A., & Graham, A. V. (1999). Screening, early identification, and office-based intervention with children and youth living in substance-abusing families. Pediatrics Supplement, 103, 1099–1112.Google Scholar
  59. Zetterlund, U., Ekdahl, H., Hansson, K., Sonestedt, J., Ljungblad, R., Eklöf, V., et al. (1999). Gruppsamtal för barn till missbrukare. [Group discussions for children of substance abusers]. Socialmedicinsk Tidskrift, 1, 98–103.Google Scholar
  60. Zucker, R. A., & Wong, M. M. (2006). Prevention for children of alcoholics and other high risk groups. In M. Galanter (Ed.), Alcohol problems in adolescents and young adults. Epidemiology, neurobiology, prevention, and treatment. New York: Springer Science Business Media, Inc.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Agneta Tinnfält
    • 1
    Email author
  • Charli Eriksson
    • 2
  • Elinor Brunnberg
    • 3
  1. 1.School of Health and Medical SciencesÖrebro UniversityOrebroSweden
  2. 2.School of Health and Medical SciencesÖrebro UniversityOrebroSweden
  3. 3.School of Health, Care and Social WelfareMälardalen UniversityMalardalenSweden

Personalised recommendations