UK – Children whose parents divorce ‘more likely’ to become binge drinkers

Children with parents who divorce or separate before they are five are more likely to become binge drinkers when they reach 16 than children with parents who remain together, a major new study has found.

Demos, the thinktank, has analysed the drinking habits of almost 32,000 people over three decades. It found that the style of a child’s upbringing has a marked impact on his or her alcohol consumption as a teenager and adult.

As well as finding that children whose parents divorce are more likely to have “problematic drinking behaviors”, the study found that 16-year-olds with “disengaged parents” are over eight times more likely to drink excessively than children with parents who are more engaged.

Conversely, high levels of parental warmth when a child is under five significantly reduce the chances that the child will drink excessively at the age of 16, Demos says.

Jamie Bartlett, the author of the report, said: “Divorce won’t make your child a drinker, but instability and stress around relationship breakdown takes its toll on parents and children.

“Difficult relationships and high levels of stress for parents with young children have been shown to affect children later on and their relationship with alcohol is no exception. Setting strong rules around alcohol consumption as children get older will be crucial to ensuring that we are not raising a generation of binge drinkers.”

Although binge drinking – the consumption of more than twice the recommended daily allowance of alcohol in one episode – has actually been in decline in the UK for at least five years, a “small but possibly growing” number of young adults is drinking to “extreme excess”, Demos said.

The Department of Health’s recommendation for alcohol consumption is 21 units a week for men and 14 for women.

Demos’s findings could to be taken into account when the Department of Health publishes its new alcohol strategy later this year. The strategy is expected to give local authorities greater powers to tackle alcohol-related problems.

The report, which draws on detailed statistical analysis of two vast sets of data, concludes that parenting style is “enormously important” in shaping a child’s views on alcohol. It says that parents “play a central role” in shaping the way that their children drink in later life.

“Simply put, if a set of parents spends a lot of time with the child, while also enforcing rules and discipline, the child is much less likely to drink excessively as an adolescent and as an adult, compared with children whose parents did not,” says the thinktank in the report, called Under the Influence.

The group identified four types of parenting; authoritarian, disengaged, laissez-faire and tough love.

“The combination of discipline and affection, sometimes called ‘tough ‘love’, is known to be related to several positive outcomes for children – and responsible drinking is one of them,” it said.

Parents that set and enforce clear boundaries, mixed with “high levels of attachment”, make a major difference, the report says.

Mr Bartlett said that it is “vital” that parents with young children have strong support networks around them if they separate.

See Demo’s Press Release Here

Under the Influence by Jamie Bartlett, Matt Grist and Bryanna Hahn is published on Monday 12 September, 2011. It will be available for download for free from

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