Attachment, reflective function, family dysfunction, and psychological distress among college students with alcoholic parents


By bhadmin February 2, 2021

This study compared attachment, reflective function, family dysfunction, and psychological distress among college students from families with and without parental alcohol abuse and attempted to explain the causal connections among these variables. The sample consisted of 171 college students from a large, urban Northeastern University with a mean age of 20.2, who received $20 as an incentive for their participation. There were 78 Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOAs) and 93 non-ACOAs. The Inventory of Parent and Peer Attachment (IPPA) measured how well mother, father, and peers served as sources of psychological support from an attachment perspective. The Reflective Function scale was used to rate the responses to two essay questions about relationships with mother and father. The Family Health Scale of the Self-Report Family Inventory was used as a measure of how healthy or dysfunctional the family’s system of coping was. The Global Severity Index of the Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI) was used to measure the level of psychological distress. The initial data presentation was a description of the sample variables. The univariate findings were reported for the entire sample and a bivariate analysis was conducted to determine the effect of ACOA status on the intervening and dependent variables. Finally, a bivariate analysis was performed preparatory to conducting a multiple regression analysis looking at ACOA status, family dysfunction, and attachment as predictors of psychological distress. There were significant differences found between the ACOAs and non-ACOAs on most variables, as hypothesized. ACOAs were significantly less securely attached to their mothers and fathers, and had significantly greater family dysfunction and psychological distress. There was no difference between the two groups on attachment to friends, and the prediction about lower reflective functioning among the ACOAs was not borne out. ACOAs tended to have higher reflective function towards their parents. Reflective function was significantly higher towards their mothers. A major finding of this study examined through multiple regression analysis was that attachment predicted psychological distress, over and above family dysfunction or ACOA status. Security of attachment alone explained 12 % of the variance on psychological distress in the total sample when added to the other predictors in the model. However, both ACOA status and family dysfunction were significantly correlated with psychological distress, indicating they may play mediating roles. Almost one fourth of all children in the U.S. are exposed to parental alcohol abuse or dependence. These children have been found to experience many negative cognitive and psychological effects as a result of their familial experiences and are at high risk for later substance abuse. However, there is a lack of theoretical underpinnings to guide research, prevention, and intervention efforts. Attachment theory provides a model upon which research and intervention efforts for both children and their families can be based. Reflective function provides a conceptual framework for understanding the way individuals come to understand how other people’s minds work, and in so doing, how to regulate stress and emotions.

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