Kathleen Parker, a nationally syndicated columnist and Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, published a remarkable column last Friday about the decision she made in early January of this year to stop drinking. The column emphasizes the impact of parental drinking on the development of a child’s relationship with alcohol , and though her own sons are now grown, Ms. Parker has regrets about the past:
“They are no longer watching my every move to learn how they should live. But for many years they did — and I wish I had been a better role model.”
Research funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) suggests that Ms. Parker’s reflections are well-taken. In a publication entitled Parenting Influences on the Development of Alcohol Abuse and Dependence NIAAA researchers observe that studies about the impact of parental drinking on children indicate that:
1. Children’s perceptions of parental drinking quantity and circumstances appear to influence their own drinking frequency.
2. Children’s alcohol expectancies reflect recognition of alcohol related norms and a cognizance of parental drinking patterns by a very early age.
3. Changes in parental drinking patterns result in changes in the nature and impact of children’s alcohol related expectancies. (The article explains that, in a 3-year study of adolescent children of alcoholics, those whose fathers no longer experienced alcohol-related problems demonstrated a stronger relation between their beliefs in restrained drinking and lowered alcohol use than did COA’s whose fathers continued to experience alcohol related problems. Moreover, belief in drinking restraint predicted lower alcohol or drug consumption.
The NIAA also notes that children are more likely to view drinking as harmless when their parents drink, and that they start drinking earlier and are more likely to misuse alcohol by age 17 to 18. Fischer and Lyness (2005) also observed that, “Adults’ behaviors with substances, which provide modeling, elicit expectancies, and create disruptive home environments, appear to be associated with earlier use of substances by children.”
So a parent’s relationship with alcohol does influence children’s perceptions and beliefs about alcohol as well as their use of this drug–and positive changes in a parent’s drinking patterns can also benefit their children.
Read more about the impact of addiction on individuals and families in Dr. Wood’s books: