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Publication Date

March 2016

Publication Title

Journal of Family Communication



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In the United States, roughly 43% of adults have encountered alcoholism in their family, and one in four children lives with an alcoholic parent (Grant, 2000). Prior research suggests that alcoholism can negatively impact the nature and quality of family relations, but studies rarely consider the specific ways in which family communication dynamics are impacted by the disease. Thus, the goal of this study was to identify the characteristics of communication in families of alcoholics and to develop a larger conceptual model to guide future inquiries in this context. A national sample of 682 adult children of alcoholics were asked to describe the communication dynamics in their family of origin. A theme analysis of the open-ended data revealed four overarching themes that were comprised of nine subcategories: (a) aggressive communication (e.g., heightened conflict, tense communication, and secretive slandering); (b) protective communication (e.g., superficiality, limited or indirect communication, and sober parent buffering); (c) adaptive communication (e.g., functional communication); and, (d) inconsistent communication (e.g., struggles over power and control, mood fluctuation). We draw on the results of this analysis to propose a model depicting communication dynamics in families of alcoholics and the antecedent conditions and consequent outcomes of such communication patterns in the family.


This is the Submitted Manuscript of an article that appeared in Journal of Family Communication, volume 16, issue 2, 2016, published by Taylor & Francis. The Version of Record (VOR) may be found at
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