Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




The progressive deterioration of an alcohol abuser is well documented. As the alcoholic continues to sink into a deeper dependency on alcohol, he experiences devastating physical and emotional repercussions. Not the least of the repercussions is the gradual breakdown of his family system. As the alcoholic moves toward the bottle, his family moves away from him, with the result that alcoholism ranks as one of the leading causes of broken homes. Alcoholism is double-edged; it affects not only the primary victim but it exerts a heavy toll on the spouse and children as well. Only recently has stress in research been placed on the children of alcoholics. The following study was an attempt to provide some of the empirical base for a more complete understanding of the personality and developmental problems of children of alcoholics. The general purpose of the study was to test whether the children of alcoholics have poorer self-concepts in comparison to children with non-alcoholic parents.

Self-concept was measured both through an established self- concept assessment procedure, the Piers-Harris Children’s Self-Concept Scale, and also through an examination of the child's self-evaluation system. A total of 149 children, 40 of them children of alcoholics, ranging in age from 9 to 12, were examined with the aid of an alcoholic treatment program and the public schools of a northern Minnesota community.

The Piers-Karris Self-Concept Scale was administered to all of the 149 subjects. In addition, a behavioral self-evaluation task was administered to the 40 children of alcoholics as well as to a like number of control children matched according to a number of socioeconomic indicators. The data were then analyzed in three ways. A multiple regression analysis of the self-concept scores of the 149 children was done to determine the extent to which being a child of an alcoholic is predictive of low self-concept. Following that, the scores on both the self-concept and self-reinforcement tasks were analyzed using a dependent tytest, to determine if the children of alcoholics would score significantly different than their matched group. Finally, regression analyses were done on the data obtained from the 40 children of alcoholics to test the effects of a number of variables on both self-concept and self-evaluation. These independent variables included age, sex, number of siblings and birth order, as well as six variables particularly pertinent to the children of alcoholics: number of parents in the home, years of separation from the alcoholic parent, membership in Ala-Teen, years of child's life the parent was alcoholic, total years of recent sobriety, and number of treatment programs attended by the alcoholic parent.

The principal hypothesis of the study, that children of alcoholics register lower self-concept scores than children of nonalcoholics, was supported. The regression analysis showed evidence that parental alcoholism is predictive of low self-concept in children. A matched sample comparison gave more conclusive evidence.

Regression analysis on the children of alcoholics confirmed the hypothesis that years of separation from the alcoholic parent had favorable effects on self-concept, as did larger number of siblings. There was some evidence that membership in Ala-Teen was predictive of higher self-concept. The hypothesis that number of treatment programs attended by the alcoholic parent and total years of parental alcoholism would be deliterious to children's self-concept was not substantiated, nor was the hypothesis that total years of recent sobriety would have a favorable effect on self-concept. This analysis of sub-groups was marked by an uneven distribution of the sample, and the need for further research based on a more evenly distributed sample was discussed.

No significant results were found regarding the self-evaluation task. It did not prove to be a discriminating measure within the sample of children of alcoholics, nor did it discriminate the experimental and matched groups. A number of possible explanations for this lack of significant findings were offered. Further research is warranted to correlate actual behavior with established trait-state dimensions.