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Children More Likely to Drink & Drive if Parents Drink: Study

Even moderate alcohol consumption by mom or dad influences kids' behavior later, researchers say

FRIDAY, Sept. 9, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- Parents who drink -- even moderately -- may increase the risk that their children will drive under the influence as adults, a new study has found.

Researchers from the University of Florida found that about 6 percent of teens whose parents drank even occasionally said they drove under the influence when they reached 21 years of age. Meanwhile, only 2 percent of those whose parents did not drink drove under the influence at 21, according to the report published online and in the November print issue of Accident Analysis & Prevention.

"The main idea is that parents' alcohol use has an effect on their kids' behavior," study lead author, Mildred Maldonado-Molina, an associate professor of health outcomes and policy with the University of Florida College of Medicine, said in a university news release. "It's important for parents to know that their behavior has an effect not only at that developmental age when their kids are adolescents, but also on their future behavior as young adults."

In conducting the study, the researchers collected information from nearly 10,000 teens and their parents, and followed up with a second survey seven years later.

Although parents have more influence on their children than their kids' friends do, the study found that peer pressure could also have an influence on the behavior of teens. Teens with friends that drink alcohol, the researchers revealed, are more likely to drive under the influence -- even when their parents do not drink at home.

When both their parents and their friends drink alcohol, teens seem to be at particularly high risk. The study revealed that about 11 percent of these teens were later found to drive under the influence during their 20s.

Tara Kelley-Baker, a senior research scientist at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, who was not involved with the study, commented on the findings in the university news release. "I think it is really important to understand the influence of parents and peers," she said. "Parents must understand the influence they have on their children. Some parents just assume they have lost their influence or that they never had it. Research has shown more and more that this is not the case."

The researchers noted that they were surprised to find that gender did not play a role in the study's findings. The influence of parents and friends appeared to affect men and women the same way. "Their risk factors are similar, and that calls for attention when developing interventions and prevention efforts," said Maldonado-Molina.

The study concluded that efforts to prevent drinking and driving among young adults must start when kids are younger than 15 years of age, and parents must also be educated about the consequences of their behavior.

"The home is a really important source for these kids," said Maldonado-Molina. "(Parents) may not perceive their drinking as negative, but it influences what is acceptable behavior."

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about safe driving for teens.

SOURCE: University of Florida Health Science Center, news release, Sept. 6, 2011
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