Page last updated: January 16, 2013

Mother's drinking habits may affect childrens drinking patterns long-term

According to a new study, children follow their mothers’ drinking habits in adulthood while the amount their father drinks does not have any effect.UK-based think-tank DEMOS tracked the drinking patterns of 18,000 people over three decades and found that at the age of 16, teenagers were mainly influenced by their peers in how much they drank, while their parents’ attitudes towards alcohol appeared to show little impact. Yet by the age of 34, likelihood of people ‘binge drinking’ rose in line with how much they had thought, as a child, that their mother drank. As teenagers, the group were asked to assess whether their parents drank never, sometimes, often or always. Researchers found that with each step that mothers rose on the four-point scale, the chance that their adult children were drinking above the recommended limits rose 1.3 times. However, the study found no relationship between the drinking habits of fathers, and the later behaviour of their adult children.  It appears that among parents who drank, it seemed fathers were likely to do more of their drinking outside the home, often in pubs, while drinking by mothers was more likely to be witnessed by children, and therefore hold more influence. “What we found really interesting was this delayed effect; the impact of what teenagers perceived about their mothers’ drinking habits doesn’t show an impact at the time, but decades later,”  commented Jonathan Birdwell, head of Demos’ Citizens Programme. He added that the ‘cultural acceptability’  of male drinking might also reduce the influence of fathers on their children’s attitudes to alcohol. The study found that teenagers were least likely to binge drink if they categorised their upbringing as one in which strict discipline was combined with high levels of parental warmth. It also suggested those whose parents separate or divorce before the age of five were more likely to become binge drinkers. The Demos research is part of an ongoing project overseen by an independent steering committee of public health experts, academics, advocacy groups and industry representatives. The first report, entitled Under the Influence, found that parenting style has a significant impact on whether children binge drink at 16 and later in life at 34. This second report, presented at the DEMOS conference held in Birmingham on 9th October,  looks more closely at families where at least one parent has a problem with alcohol.
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