A study into the impact of parental drinking habits was in the papers today, with the Independent reporting that parents “should drink alcohol less in front of the children” and the Daily Mail claiming that women drinkers “pass on bad habits to their teenage children”.
The study was published by the think-tank Demos. Demos states that its work is driven by “the goal of a society populated by free, capable, secure and powerful citizens”.
The study, entitled ‘Feeling the Effects’, was carried out to assess whether there were alcohol-related harms occurring, to quote the report, ‘behind the headlines’.
City-centre fights and A&E admissions, fuelled by alcohol misuse, make for high profile media stories. But there are other effects of alcohol misuse, which happen ‘behind closed doors’, that have an influence on family life.
The researchers make the case that there is a connection between three factors:
They found that the more a parent drank, the less likely they were to employ what is known as a ‘tough love’ parenting style. This approach combines a high level of emotional warmth with a high level of behavioural discipline. The report found that children not brought up with the tough love parenting style were more likely to begin drinking hazardously themselves.
The authors argue that helping parents address their drinking habits would be a better way to protect children against hazardous drinking than ‘one size fits all’ approaches such as minimum pricing for alcohol.
The report, called Feeling the Effects, has been produced by Demos, an independent think-tank that undertakes research on key social and political issues. The organisation says it challenges the traditional, 'ivory tower' model of policymaking by ‘giving a voice to people and communities’.
The authors of the report are Jonathan Birdwell, Emma Vandore and Bryanna Hahn.
The report is based on evidence from two separate pieces of research. The first of these is the Birth Cohort Study (BCS), a cohort study of more than 17,000 people born in England, Scotland and Wales in a single week during 1970. Over the course of the cohort-members’ lives, the BCS has collected information on many factors including alcohol consumption and family life. The current study used information collected from follow-up in 1980 (when the cohort members were aged 10), in 1986 (when they were aged 16) and in 2004/05 (when they were aged 34).
For this study, researchers looked at parental alcohol consumption, based on children’s perception of how often or how much their parents drank. The responses ranged from ‘never’, ‘sometimes’ or ‘often’ to ‘always’.
They also categorised four parenting styles based on a range of questions asked of both parents and children about levels of behavioural discipline and emotional affection. These were:
The researchers then looked at whether parenting styles had any association with children’s drinking levels at 16 and 34 years of age.
The second piece of research involved in-depth interviews with 50 families across the UK where at least one parent was accessing alcohol support services for being a ‘harmful’ or problematic drinker. Most of the parents were single mothers, many of whom had started drinking at a very young age.
Demos says that its previous research has shown that ‘tough love’ parenting – combining high levels of affection with consistent discipline – is the most effective parenting style for protecting children from drinking hazardously as teenagers and adults. In this latest research, they wanted to explore how parental alcohol consumption affected parenting style and also how parental alcohol consumption affected the risk of children drinking hazardously as teenagers and adults.
They found that:
The researchers also explored the effectiveness of support to help families struggling with alcohol to address their issues, be better parents and prevent alcohol problems from occurring across the parent and child generations. They found that:
The report says that helping parents address their alcohol misuse and become ‘better parents’ is critical to breaking the cycle of alcohol abuse. Their recommendations are aimed at a wide range of different agencies including national and local government and health professionals. The report recommends:
The media reports appear to be primarily based on information in a press release issued by Demos.
Coverage was fair, although there was little coverage of the report’s recommendations on services to support parents with drinking problems.
The reporting seemed to be more interested in the problems highlighted by the study than the solutions proposed.