Drinking and Children

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Think before you drink: Heavy-drinking parents risk children’s mental health

Harm caused by parental alcohol abuse may be severe and distressing to children, according to a new study.

Drinking and Children

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The children of parents who are heavy drinkers are at higher risk of mental health disorders and hospitalisations, according to new research.

Academics have reviewed hospital and other centralised records, as well as register-based studies, and found that kids whose parents drank over recommended alcohol limits experienced a range of poor outcomes.

Consequences extend beyond drinker

“Within the last 10 years, there has been an expansion of research on consequences that extend beyond the drinker,” the researchers wrote.

“Although some studies show that harm because of strangers’ drinking may be more prevalent, harms caused by close relations, such as household family members and friends, may be more severe and distressing.”

Potential dangers of parental alcohol abuse through record reviews

Lead author Julie Brummer, from Aarhus University in Denmark, and her colleagues stated that most research on the harm that drinking can cause to family members has relied on self-reports — but this is unreliable as most underreport harmful behaviour.

Instead, reviewing records has given her team a fuller picture of the potential dangers to children of parental alcohol abuse.

“Registers are able to easily link immediate family members and follow individuals over extended periods of time to study long-term outcomes,” she said.

“Particularly in the Nordic region, there are register data across many domains, including physical and mental health-areas where we suspect we may see harms to family members.”

By reviewing records, mostly in Nordic countries, Brummer and colleagues were able to look at a wider range of outcomes and ages of children, “from birth through adolescence and beyond”.

Heavy drinkers’ children more likely to be convicts

Children of parents who drank heavily experienced an increase in mental health disorders in childhood and/or adolescence, were more likely to have lower academic achievement, be hospitalised, and have criminal convictions.

In an accompanying review, Dr Anne-Marie Laslett of the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research in Australia, agreed with the conclusion that this type of study could help researchers observe the effects of alcohol abuse more closely.

“The article by Brummer and associates points toward a wider scope in which register data sets can contribute to documenting, investigating, and prevention planning for harms from others’ drinking,” she added.

Full review results have been published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

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