What personality traits do children of alcoholics inherit?

Readers Question Readers Question: (Name changed for privacy)
Stanton Peele Response by: Dr. Stanton Peele
Posted on September 24th, 2009 - Last updated: December 20th, 2017
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Dear Stanton:

What psycho-social tendencies, if any, are inherited by the children of alcoholics?


Dear Michael:

Cloninger claims that male alcoholics inherit antisocial, criminal tendencies. That doesn’t register for me. It seems more plausible to say that alcoholics inherit (1) an impetuous, (2) emotionally labile nature. One might also imagine that alcoholics inherit some reactivity to alcohol that makes it an effective tranquilizing substance for some.

But this is hardly determinative. Sometimes descriptions of alcoholics sound to me like descriptions of salesmen.

And how about personalities of children of alcoholics? This is a group said to inherit hyperresponsibility since they have to cope with an alcoholic parent. On the one hand, this sets up the possibility that alcoholics can be either (a) irresponsible, (b) very responsible. Secondly, it indicates that this trait is bad. But isn’t a trait that assists in accomplishment arguably positive?

In the case of proposed children-of-alcoholic traits, of course, we tend to be looking to environmental causation, as opposed to inherited traits. This additionally raises the question of their modifiability with insight and changing situations. I think the area of alcoholic traits is pretty iffy.

Best, Stanton

Stanton Peele

Dr. Stanton Peele, recognized as one of the world's leading addiction experts, developed the Life Process Program after decades of research, writing, and treatment about and for people with addictions. Dr. Peele is the author of 14 books. His work has been published in leading professional journals and popular publications around the globe.

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