A grounded theory study of adolescent daughters of fathers who are alcoholic

Mary Elaine Joan Dobbins, University of Pennsylvania


This study described, analyzed, and interpreted the experience of female adolescents surrounding paternal alcoholism. The study documented problems experienced by adolescent daughters of fathers who are alcoholic and described strategies used by adolescents to manage these problems. A grounded theory approach was employed. Using participant observation strategies in a high school sponsored support group for children of parents with alcoholism, interactions were observed. In conjunction with participant observation, intensive interviews were conducted over a 2-year period with 11 adolescents. The sample was selected on the basis of membership in the support group and by referral. Data were analyzed using the constant comparative method. The study identified three major areas in which adolescents addressed the impact of paternal alcoholism on their development of self identity: relationships, conflict, and self. The study uncovered strategies used to deal with problems resulting from paternal alcoholism in each of these areas. In family relationships, analysis of informants' reports uncovered the themes of togetherness and uncertainty as central. Adolescents employed three central strategies in their efforts to develop a coherent adolescent life in the midst of a family dealing with paternal alcoholism: keeping peace, avoiding their own pain and developing possibilities for self. They looked to peer relationships for the certainty they missed at home. Conflict was universally identified as the most difficult part of family life with a father who is alcoholic. Conflict was pervasive and unresolved. Strategies used to manage conflict fell into three categories: avoidance, weighing, and confrontation. The final area in which the problem of paternal alcoholism manifested itself was the development of self. Adolescents perceived themselves as competent, serious survivors of the effects of paternal alcoholism. They used strategies to manage themselves ranging from focusing on others and yearning for normal lives to building boundaries around their own lives. The organizing theme that emerged in adolescents' stories was "balancing loyalties." Focusing on the problem from the adolescents' point of view provided new insights into their loyalty, reflectiveness, and willingness to face difficult issues. Findings revealed a heterogeneity and resilience of spirit among these adolescents not found in the literature.

Subject Area

Developmental psychology|Nursing|Womens studies|Families & family life|Personal relationships|Sociology|Social psychology

Recommended Citation

Dobbins, Mary Elaine Joan, "A grounded theory study of adolescent daughters of fathers who are alcoholic" (1995). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9532164.