Revealing lives: a qualitative study with children and young people affected by parental alcohol problems

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


In recent decades, there has been recognition that children and young people have considerable knowledge about their own lives that merits academic attention. The overall aim of this study is to reflexively engage with children and young people who have been affected by parental (or significant carer) alcohol problems and to explore, from their perspectives, the perceived impact on their lives and their experiences of support. Given the common secrecy and potential stigma of problematic alcohol use, the experiences of children and young people living in families where one or both parents (or carers) have an alcohol problem often remains hidden. My interest in using a participatory research approach with children has led to my further aim: to critically explore and develop research methods with children and young people to explore this potentially sensitive topic. As part of my commitment of conducting research with, rather than on, children, I involved two groups of children and young people already accessing support services for parental alcohol problems in the research design. The research built from this foundation and, in total, 30 children and young people aged from nine to 20 years old participated in individual, pair or small group interviews or a group work programme via a range of voluntary support services across Scotland. This study reflexively explores the commonalities, diversities and complexities across and within children and young people’s lives when affected by, to use their own frequently used term, parental alcohol problems. Emergent themes of knowledge, emotion, trust and difference are presented in four findings chapters. Many children and young people had extensive knowledge about the impact of parental alcohol problems on their lives and I describe their own nuanced ways of choosing to communicate this knowledge in the research context. I critically discuss the importance, yet experienced complexities, of understanding children and young people’s emotions about parental alcohol problems. Children and young people’s conceptualisations of trust, whether declared, demonstrated or alluded to, were central in their decisions to talk ‘outside of the family’, including to myself. I consider whether the concept of stigma can sufficiently explain the perceived and experienced differences that children and young people shared. In recognising that knowledge is co-constructed in a particular social context, I demonstrate that a reflexive and critical exploration of research methods and relationships can further contribute to our understanding about the heterogeneity of children and young people’s lives when affected by parental alcohol problems. Finally, I discuss the theoretical, methodological and policy and practice implications derived from engaging with children and young people affected by parental alcohol problems
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Edinburgh
Place of PublicationEdinburgh
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • parental alcohol problems
  • children
  • young people
  • alcohol

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