Adult children of alcoholics' experiences of close relationships in adulthood.
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This study endeavoured to gain a deeper and more holistic understanding of how adult children of alcoholic’s (ACoA’s) experience relationships as adults. In addition, the study also aimed to explore and describe the challenges ACoA’s may face within these close relationships and the strategies they use in dealing with issues that arise from being an ACoA. In fulfilling these aims, a qualitative interpretive research design was utilised, which allowed the ACoA’s subjective experiences to be highlighted and explored in an in-depth manner. With the use of snowball and convenience sampling, seven self-identified ACoA’s shared their experiences during a 60-90 minute semi-structured interview. The data obtained from these interviews were analysed using thematic analysis which produced four major themes, including: (1) growing up in a family with alcoholism, (2) linking past relationships to present, (3) managing the unmanageable, (4) making meaning and lessons learned. Broadly, the findings of this study suggested that although ACoA’s desire closeness, they tend to experience their relationships with trepidation. As a result, they reported that they were hyper-vigilant and untrusting in relationships, often finding it hard to open up, share and be vulnerable and, consequently, expressed a difficulty in connecting and reconnecting with others. The strategies that ACoA’s made use of in dealing with issues that arose suggested an overall pattern of emotion-focused coping with some strategies proving to be more useful and adaptive than the ones formed early on in growing up in a family with alcoholism. Many of these experiences, challenges and ways of coping were rooted in their early experiences and centralised around the issue of trust and their inability to establish trust, which is evident throughout their relationship histories. The findings of the current study extended that of previous research in that the relationship experiences and challenges went beyond that of romantic relationships, suggesting that a general pattern of relating and coping may exist for ACoA’s, even across relationship types. This shows the lasting impact and far-reaching effects growing up in such an environment can have on an individual throughout their lives. Lastly, this study brought to light several insights that can be used as a point of departure for future researchers working in the area of ACoA’s as well as various practical implications that may prove helpful to ACoA’s as well as health professionals working with ACoA’s and their families.