In a recent study, Minnesota researchers asked almost 2,500 dads what the maximum number of alcoholic drinks they had ever consumed in one day was. The more the fathers reported drinking, the greater the chance their youngsters had behavioral problems such as attention deficit disorder or oppositional defiant disorder, and the greater the risk the children would become dependent on alcohol or drugs themselves.
"As the number of drinks per day went up, the likelihood of problems increased," says Stephen Malone, lead author of the study and a research associate with the Minnesota Twin Family Study at the University of Minnesota.
"To some extent, the maximum number of drinks is an indicator of the severity of dad's problems," says Malone. He explains that while some of the fathers who reported high maximums didn't meet the criteria for a diagnosis of alcohol dependence, a history of having had 40, 50 or even 80 drinks in one day certainly indicated a greater risk for dependency. Such a high number in one day suggested a history of excessive drinking because it's difficult to consume that much alcohol in a day unless you have built up a tolerance for it.
The information for this study came from the Minnesota Twin Family Study, a large study following the entire population of twins and their parents in Minnesota. Malone and his colleagues questioned both male and female twins and their parents for the current study. The twins were either 11 years old (1,350 total) or 17 years old (1,076 total) at the start of the study. They were questioned again by researchers after three years.
The researchers found the number of drinks a father reported having in one day was associated with their children's behavioral problems and substance-related problems for both age groups. In the younger set of twins, the more a father reported drinking in a day, the greater the likelihood of their children starting to use drugs or alcohol early in life. These results were similar for both males and females, and held true whether the father was diagnosed as alcohol dependent or not.
Results of the study appear in the December issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.
Michael Nuccitelli, a psychologist and director of SLS Health, a psychiatric and drug treatment facility for young adults in Brewster, N.Y., says much of what this study says is common sense, but it's helpful for clinicians to have it quantified.
"The higher the blood alcohol level, the more the brain is impacted. Alcohol can make people more violent and abusive and verbally abusive, saying things they don't mean," says Nuccitelli. "That would naturally increase childhood dysfunction."
Nuccitelli says the study proves again the impact of alcohol abuse and consumption on child development.
"Ninety percent of all parenting is indirect. For the first 12 years, that's where most children learn about how to interface with the environment," he explains. "So, if at home children see poor conflict resolution, alcohol use and abuse, et cetera, it will have a detrimental effect."
For people who treat children and alcoholics, he says this study gives them another good measure for identifying adults and youngsters that are most at risk.
Malone says he suspects the results would hold true for mothers as well; they just weren't studied this time.
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