Fathers’ drinking affects quality of parenting

New research exploring fathers’ binge drinking in relation to the quality of their parenting suggests that preventing or treating heavy alcohol use among fathers may have broad benefits for families.

Published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, the research shows globally men are increasingly involved in children’s development, however fathers who report binge drinking are less involved with their children.

The study assessed 4,562 fathers aged 18–49 in Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Sri Lanka, and 50 per cent of fathers reported often or very often playing or doing activities with their children, while 24 per cent often or very often talked with their children about personal matters.

However, participants who reported more binge drinking also reported less fathering involvement than those not inclined to drink heavily.

Study lead at La Trobe University, Dr Anne-Marie Laslett, said that while previous studies around the world have acknowledged the harms of parents’ problematic alcohol use, little is known about how heavy alcohol use impacts fathers’ relationships with their children specifically.

“We looked at not only the relationship between binge drinking and men’s involvement with their children, but how fathers’ own childhood trauma and attitudes towards gender equality could influence their role within families,” Dr Laslett said.

“Gender-equitable attitudes were generally linked to more engaged parenting, while overall childhood trauma did not affect fathers’ parenting involvement – however we know that reducing binge drinking among fathers may increase their positive family involvement, with benefits for women and children.”

Self-reported binge drinking was most common in Papua New Guinea and Cambodia — also the countries reporting the most traditional gender attitudes — and least common in Indonesia. Generally, older fathers reported greater involvement in their children’s lives than younger fathers.

More about the study:
  • Researchers used a rare dataset from a United Nations study, covering five lower-income countries in Asia, to explore the relationship between binge drinking and men’s involvement with their children.
  • Heavy drinking, often related to notions of masculinity, has been linked across cultures to more punitive parenting, child abuse and neglect, and intimate partner violence.
  • The participants filled out questionnaires assessing the time they spent interacting with their children (e.g., playing or helping with homework), their frequency of heavy episodic drinking (six or more drinks on the same occasion), their own experiences of abuse as children, and their attitudes toward gender norms (e.g., women’s role in the home).
  • Researchers used statistical analysis to explore associations between these and additional factors.
  • The study adds to evidence connecting fathers’ problematic alcohol consumption with limitations in their parenting and helps build a gendered understanding of binge drinking.
  • Further research is needed exploring alcohol use and parenting, involving more countries and culturally informed measures of behaviors.

Media enquiries: Anna Knight, a.knight@latrobe.edu.au, 0481 383 817