Are adolescents influenced by their parents’ drinking? Through watching their parents drink, adolescents perceive alcohol makes people more social and enhances positive feelings

A new study from the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research (CAPR) at La Trobe University has found that adolescents aged 10-16 are influenced by seeing their parents drinking, raising their expectation that alcohol makes people more sociable, and that boys see their father’s drinking as enhancing positive feelings. 755 adolescents from the Netherlands aged between 10 and 13 at the start of the study were surveyed every six months for three years about their mothers’ and fathers’ alcohol use.

The adolescents were surveyed about four possible expectancies about how they perceive alcohol:
1) Social expectancies, such as being social at parties
2) Enhancement expectancies, such as getting drunk
3) Coping expectancies, such as alleviating worries, and
4) Conformity, such as fitting in with a peer group.

The results demonstrated that when adolescents see their parents drinking, their expectancies about how they perceive alcohol use is increased in the areas of social expectancies – alcohol makes people more social – and, for boys watching their fathers’ drinking - enhancing expectancies – alcohol enhances positive feelings.

The study also found that boys’ expectancies around alcohol increases when exposed to their fathers’ drinking, but this was not the case for girls.

Lead researcher Koen Smit said, “this study adds to the field because while most studies of this kind have surveyed participants annually or less frequently, the Alcohol Expectancies study surveyed participants every six months.”

“Our findings showed that adolescents’ expectancies around alcohol can indeed be raised in as little as six months.,” he said.

The results show that what adolescents see of their parents’ drinking can influence their expectancies, even within short periods. The study recommends that preventative action should include explicit guidelines for parents to demonstrate how their children seeing them drinking affects them.

The paper, ‘Alcohol expectancies change in early to middle adolescence as a function of the exposure to parental alcohol use’ is available online, published in the Drug and Alcohol Dependence journal, an international journal focused on drug, alcohol and tobacco use and dependence.

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