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Under the Influence - Parents and Binge Drinking

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Over the weekend we released findings from our forthcoming report about binge-drinking, of which I am lead author. It was widely covered, including here, here, and here.

We looked at longitudinal data sets that allowed us to see if the way parents raised their children affected child's drinking habits when they become an adolescent and an adult. The results show that, even when accounting for income, education, ethnicity, gender, parents' drinking and more, parenting style is enormously important. The children of parents that combine high levels of attachment/warmth with high levels of discipline are much less likely to drink excessively in later life than children of parents who do not.

This is quite intuitive. It does not mean parenting is the 'cause' of binge-drinking, as some reports have put it, or that it is the only factor. But it is important. What does all this mean? Certainly I won't finger-wag at parents from behind a shield of statistics or start proposing patronizing parenting classes, as most parents do this anyway. It is rather a positive story: that the job of setting and enforcing clear boundaries, mixed with high levels of attachment and time spent with children - especially at 15/16 - can and does make a major difference, even if it doesn't always feel like it at the time. Of course, this will likely have a positive impact on many aspects of children's lives that are more important than how much alcohol they drink.

In a free and liberal society, people will sometimes drink too much. The most obvious angle, rarely reported, is that some people also enjoy it. Interestingly, binge-drinking (as defined by drinking twice the daily recommended allowance in a single episode) is actually falling in the UK. But we do have a small but highly visible minority that drink to extreme, irresponsible excess - putting themselves and others at risk of harm. This, then, is at least partly about how people behave when drinking, and that is why parents are so important. Responsibility, self-control, respect for others, are things that are transmitted through the family. Parenting of the type I've mentioned above tends to lead to these character traits. That will help create more responsible drinkers - and so much more besides.