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Human Services


Tracey M. Phillips


Exposure to parental alcohol use disturbs important family relationships and may influence self-differentiation and triangulation, especially among siblings. The sibling relationship provides a foundation for future relationships, yet researchers know little about how parental alcohol abuse influences the sibling relationship. The purpose of this descriptive phenomenological inquiry was to explore the influence of parental alcohol abuse on triangulation and self-differentiation in the sibling relationship in families of origin. Purposeful sampling and semistructured, face-to-face interviews were used to gather information from 12 self-identified adult children of alcoholics to explore triangulation and self-differentiation among siblings. The research questions guided the study to help reveal how triangulation and self-differentiation among siblings is influenced in their family of origin by parental alcoholism. Twelve audio-recorded interviews were manually transcribed and coded for themes using a categorization system based on word repetitions, key terms, and metaphors. Family systems theory served as the conceptual framework for the study. Member-checking, detailed descriptions and audit trials were used to determine the trustworthiness of data. Sibling relationships in an alcohol-focused family system were found to be volatile and stressful, resulting in triangulated relationships and a distorted sense of self. The results of this study may add to the current body of literature on the alcohol-focused family system, and the associated recommendations may inform treatment modules with targeted interventions designed for siblings. Such interventions would result from a proposed shift in the current treatment focus on the identified client to a more family system based approach to treatment.

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