Parenting Has a Big Effect on Whether Teens Drink Alcohol, Study Finds

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Parenting and teen alcoholismUnderage drinking has been a constant problem in the U.S., but a new study suggests that the best way to stop it is through better parenting.

Underage drinking is common among teenagers in America. According to the CDC, over one-third of high school students have had alcohol and over one-fifth have drank excessively. As well, one in 10 high school students has driven a car under the influence of alcohol.

However, a new study has found that the teenagers who drink the most are also those who have the most freedom. Teenagers who were under the least amount of parental control were more likely to drink alcohol and to binge drink.

Researchers looked at data on 4937 teenagers from the Belfast Youth Development Study, which was a long-term study on substance abuse among teenagers. All of the teenagers were between the ages of 11 and 17.

The researchers found that the age of the teenagers had little effect on whether they drank alcohol. However, parental control did have a big effect on the teenagers’ drinking habits.

“Our results suggest the role of parents in determining alcohol behavior is consistently important,” said Dr. Mark McCann, a research fellow at the University of Glasgow.

While parental control had a big effect on whether teenagers drank alcohol, the actual relationship between parents and their children did not have the same effect.

This means that children who had good relationships with their parents were still more likely to drink if they also had more freedom. As well, children who had bad relationships with their parents would still be less likely to drink as long as their parents controlled them more.

“We are hypothesizing that while emotional support and closeness are important for mental wellbeing, when it comes to health behaviors like alcohol use, parental rules may have more of an influence over factors outside the home,” said Dr. McCann.

Underage drinking is linked to many negative health and social problems. Teenagers who drink are more likely to experience problems in school and in their social lives. They are also more likely to fight, be the victims of physical and sexual assault, and attempt suicide.

Teenagers who drink can also suffer from changes in their brain development. Dr. McCann also highlighted that alcohol abuse can increase the risk of some diseases, such as cancer or liver disease.

The findings of the study indicate that it isn’t just “troubled” teenagers who are likely to drink. If a parent does not monitor their child’s behavior and place limitations on them, the chances that they will begin abusing alcohol greatly increase.

However, if parents monitor their children’s behavior, they can help reduce the risk of underage drinking.

Sources for Today’s Article:
“Fact Sheets – Underage Drinking,” CDC web site,, last accessed February 11, 2016.
McCann, M., et al., “Assessing elements of a family approach to reduce adolescent drinking frequency: parent-adolescent relationship, knowledge management, and keeping secrets,” Addiction. 2015; DOI: 10.1111/add.13258.