Parental drinking habits influence those of their children

By Piriya Mahendra, medwireNews Reporter

Adolescents who have memories of their parents drinking alcohol are at an increased risk for starting to drink alcohol earlier than those who do not, research shows.

The researchers advise that parents should be made aware of the fact they influence their child's memories and later alcohol involvement by drinking in their children's presence, even before their children are considering drinking alcohol.

"Thus alcohol prevention programmes should provide parents with specific information to minimize the effects of their drinking on the associations their children have with alcohol use," write Rutger Engels (Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands) and team in Addiction.

Engels and team recommend that alcohol prevention programs should start in late childhood to delay the onset of drinking and emphasize that this is important because a delay in the alcohol consumption results in a lower risk for alcohol-related problems in adolescent and adulthood.

"Understanding the cognitive mediators of social risk factors may also suggest novel approaches to reducing the impact of these associations on decision processes, such as developing alternative, less risky associations," Engels et al explain.

The analysis of 608 Canadian adolescents (42.9% boys) in grades 7-9 showed a mediation effect of alcohol-related memory associations (assessed using the Word Association Test). The researchers explain that this means that parental drinking, as perceived by an adolescent, was positively associated with the number of memory associations.

In turn, adolescents' memory associations regarding alcohol correlated significantly with their own alcohol use, demonstrating that parental alcohol use was related positively with adolescent drinking, write the researchers.

Furthermore, alcohol-related memory associations predicted adolescent alcohol use 1 year later.

The researchers found that boys and adolescents in a higher school grade had more alcohol-related memory associations than girls and adolescents in a lower grade.

Engels and team believe that their findings demonstrate that alcohol-related memories exist before a person starts drinking alcohol and that there are dual process models of addictive behaviors that co-exist in adults and adolescents.

Moreover, alcohol attitudes, expectancies, and alcohol use itself are formed from exposure to alcohol use and the attitudes of an individual's parents, they add.

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