"I just want a normal life!": A phenomenological inquiry into children's perspectives on parental addiction and the effects of the addiction in the parent-child relationship

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Marriage and Family Therapy


Mona Mittal


Addiction, Parent-child, Children, Family therapy

Subject Categories

Marriage and Family Therapy and Counseling | Substance Abuse and Addiction


Substance abuse is a destructive behavior that affects the life of the chemically dependent individual and his/her family. Past research has focused on the effectiveness of involving family members in therapy as to engage the substance abuser in treatment, on risk factors and predictors for children's future drug use, and the externalizing behaviors exhibited by children of chemically dependent parents. No research so far has focused on the meanings children give to parental substance abuse. The purpose of this dissertation was to understand the experiences and meanings that the children of chemically dependent parents give to the addiction, and how the addiction affects the attachment bond. A qualitative methodological approach, namely the tradition of phenomenology, was used. The criteria for participating were for the children to be the son/daughter of a chemically dependent individual who had been in recovery for at least six months, and to attend a chemical dependency clinic in the Central New York area. The parent had to give consent for the children to be involved in the research study. Nine children between the ages of 9 and 16 took part in the study. Each participant responded individually to an in-depth, semi-structured interview. Holistic/contextualizing strategies of qualitative data analysis and thematic analysis were used as guidelines for data analysis. Several themes emerged from the children's responses, such as drug use of self and parent, child's feelings towards the parent and their own feeling of loss, emotional and physical chaos, sources of help, and their life in recovery. From the data two major findings surfaced. The first major finding indicates that the children's perception of the drug dependent parent influences their own drug use, and the second suggests that parental addiction creates feelings of sadness, isolation, and abandonment in the children which affect the attachment bond and that the children feel as loss that overshadows their life.


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