After a long day, it may seem natural to unwind with an alcoholic beverage or a couple glasses of wine, even with your children present.
But does drinking around kids send the wrong message? Will it impact their own drinking habits later in life? Several studies suggest that the answer to these questions is, “Yes.”
The Link Between Parental Drinking and Underage Drinking
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), there’s a link between children who start drinking during adolescence and their parents exhibiting a favorable opinion of alcohol.
If your child grows up seeing you drink regularly, expressing that drinking helps you relax or that you “need a drink,” etc., he’s likely to view drinking as harmless and begin drinking at an earlier age.
An additional study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University found that teens who have seen their parents drunk are more than twice as likely as their peers to get drunk during the average month. These same teens are three times likelier to smoke cigarettes and marijuana.
If you think occasional underage drinking isn’t a big deal, you may want to reconsider. The CASA survey further reported that teens who get drunk on a monthly basis are much likelier to smoke marijuana and be able to easily obtain marijuana and prescription pills. These teenagers are also likelier to know kids their age who use harder drugs like heroin or meth.
Elizabeth Planet, CASA’s vice president, says, “The message for parents is loud and clear. If your teen is drinking, the odds are your teen is getting drunk. And teens who get drunk are much likelier to try marijuana and hang out with friends who are abusing prescription drugs and illegal drugs like cocaine and heroin.”
So while drinking around kids may seem insignificant, it’s possible that you’re influencing your child to think that drinking is “no big deal.” This makes your child likely to drink alcohol before he reaches legal drinking age, which can be a gateway to other dangerous behaviors.
Children of Alcoholics
According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, children of alcoholics are at greater risk for experiencing emotional problems than their peers.
These emotional problems may include guilt, anxiety, embarrassment, confusion, anger, depression, and an inability to have close relationships with others.
Other children of alcoholics may become overachievers at school and take on the role of a responsible “parent” at home and among friends. Meanwhile, they will be emotionally isolated from others. These children may not clearly exhibit emotional problems until they reach adulthood.
This indicates that drinking around kids is far more influential to your children than you may realize. Parental drinking can influence both a child’s future drinking behaviors and a child’s emotional well-being.
Moderation and Communication Are Key
Does this mean you can never have a glass of wine in front of your child, or that you’re a terrible parent if you do so?
No. Drinking in moderation around your child can be appropriate, especially if you combine this with open communication about the dangers of alcohol.
Joseph Califano, chairman of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, explains, “Moderation is the key, and being engaged with your kids is a key…A glass of wine, moderate drinking, that’s fine. The real message here is parents, be engaged with your kids, talk to your kids.”
If you aren’t drinking around your kids regularly or getting drunk in front of them, and if you communicate openly with your child about the potential hazards associated with alcohol, you’re on the right track.
“Children are listening, and they are heavily influenced when parents communicate their expectations in relation to use of alcohol and drugs,” says David Devries, MS, coordinator for Nebraska’s Division of Behavioral Health. “Surveys have shown over and over that parents are the number one influence on a child’s decision to not use alcohol and drugs.”
If you do drink in front of your kids, do so only in moderation. Spend quality time with your children, and communicate about the dangers of alcohol and substance abuse. Make your expectations regarding these behaviors very clear, and you’ll help your child avoid the pitfalls of underage drinking.