Impact of Parental Drinking on Children
Fri, September 30, 2022

Impact of Parental Drinking on Children

Children are more likely to report negative outcomes if their parents drink for negative reasons even if it’s not much / Photo by: lightfieldstudios via 123RF


Children are more likely to report negative outcomes if their parents drink for negative reasons even if it’s not much, a new UK study found.

The study, published in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism, analyzed the effects of non-dependent drinking of parents on children and found that even children of moderate drinkers still report negative experiences when their parents get drunk. It also determined why parents consume alcohol and how the negative experiences they cause can impact children.

For the researchers, the findings of the study should serve as a call to action to ensure that parents have the right knowledge they can impart to children about alcohol consumption. They can use this information to protect their children from harm and abuse of the substance.


Children’s Observation of Drunk Parents

The study surveyed 997 adults, who were asked how much alcohol they consumed and the frequency they drink for any reason, and 997 children aged 10 to 17 who were asked if they ever observed their parents get drunk or tipsy and how drinking affected their parents' behavior.

Results showed that 56% of parents said they do so to relax while 29% said it was to feel happier. International news organization Reuters said about one in four parents sometimes turn to alcohol when they feel nervous, depressed, or forget their problems.

Meanwhile, 51% of the children reported seeing their parents get tipsy and 31% had seen their parents get drunk. Reuters added that 35% of the children also mentioned at least one negative outcome from their parent's alcohol consumption.

Getting less attention and being out to bed at a later time was among the most reported outcomes (12% and 11%, respectively). Children also reported seeing their parents argue more (8%) and behave in unpredictable ways (8%) when drunk.

Reuters reports that parental drinking has lower effects on children 14 to 17 years old, although the authors have yet to determine why / Photo by: Vadim Guzhva via 123RF


Kids are also more than twice as likely to experience negative outcomes when their parents drink for negative reasons. The parents surveyed were divided into three groups based on the amount of alcohol they drank in the last 28 days.

The researchers found that children were more likely to report negative outcomes (71%) if their parents had 8 to 26 drinks (medium level) during the said period than those whose parents have lower consumption levels. Those whose parents drank at the highest level—more than 26 drinks—were more than twice as likely to have negative experiences with drunk parents.

Reuters reports that parental drinking has lower effects on children 14 to 17 years old, although the authors have yet to determine why.

Lasting Impact

Negative experiences like being sent to bed early are common, but regular occurrences may lead to enduring effects on children, said addiction and mental health expert Ian Hamilton.

Speaking with The Guardian, a British daily newspaper founded in 1821, Hamilton said he suspects most parents are unaware of the effects that alcohol has on their interaction with their children or if the substance has any effect at all.

"It is not surprising that alcohol is used by parents who are struggling with their mental health and feelings; alcohol is easier to access than professional support and always available."

He noted that some people may see alcohol consumption as the only way to cope with their troubles and feelings, given the cutbacks on mental health in the UK, and that they could be unmindful of the effects on the people around them.

Meanwhile, Alcohol and Families Alliance chair Eric Appleby said the government should be concerned about the results showing that a third of children have a negative experience as a result of their parent's drinking. Appleby told The Guardian that there are inadequate materials and support for parents who wish to know more about and address their drinking issues.

"We need evidence-based support for families affected by alcohol and evidence-based guidance on parental and family member drinking and its effect on children," he said, noting that this includes low-level drinking.

Recommendations for the government

The home should be where the child first learns about how the world functions, including the consumption and effects of alcohol. The results of the study showed that the children surveyed have connected the instances of their negative experiences with their parents' behavior to drinking.

These findings served as a call to action for the government to "update their advice published for parents to include these findings to ensure parents are equipped with the most up-to-date information to make informed decisions that are right for their children," study author Lucy Bryant, from the Institute of Alcohol Studies, said in a statement.

"But these findings are only a small part of what we know about how we might protect children from alcohol harm. So, I would support the government in taking more decisive action," Bryant added.

The author's suggestions to the government include:

• Revisiting the current alcohol marketing framework and placing it on "statutory footing" under an independent regulator to protect children from the risks of being exposed to such systems.

• Increasing evidence-based support for families affected by alcohol to meet current needs. Substantial support for these families would help children see "improvements in their aspirations for the future, self-confidence and esteem, ability to deal with change, and educational attainment."

• Launching a mass media campaign to address the stigma surrounding conversations about alcohol use to remove the barriers to people seeking treatment or wanting to learn more about their drinking choices.