Study Says Underage Drinking Lessens the More Parents Talk

New research by a State University of New York, University at Buffalo psychologist reveals consistent parenting practices and restrictions about teen alcohol use can make a difference.

When it comes to adolescents and drinking, the message that parents send matters, said psychologist Craig Colder. His study, "A latent growth curve analysis of alcohol-use specific parenting and adolescent alcohol use," was published recently in Addictive Behaviors.

Colder said the study shows that those same parents who communicate the risks of alcohol use with their young children are often less likely to continue those discussions as their kids get older, a result suggesting that parents shouldn't underestimate the impact of maintaining that messaging as their children mature through their teen-age years.

"What our data are suggesting is that you can't control all of your kids' decisions, but you can help them to make good choices in situations where alcohol is available," Colder said. "You want kids to think about and reflect upon the pros and cons of drinking based on your previous discussions."

Most of the literature on adolescent alcohol use has been driven by the kinds of attitudes that predict drinking, but little work has been done on how these attitudes form, according to Colder. Understanding kids’ attitudes around drinking was the inspiration for the study.

The study used three annual assessments of parents and the target adolescent. For the first assessment, subjects were 10- or 11-years-old, an age before most kids initiate drinking. Researchers asked questions about drinking and the family environment. One year later, the subjects were interviewed again, and then interviewed a third time after another year had passed.

In a news release, Colder said, "The research is correlational in nature, which has implications for how we can interpret causality. We're not manipulating parenting in an experimental way. We're looking at what's happening in the naturalistic environment. It's called a passive correlation design. We're just observing two things that happen over time and determining if they're related to each other and these two things are related."
The National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Drug Abuse, which funded the study, has funding another round of research that will allow Colder to follow the subjects for an additional three years. The successive studies will combine data obtained before the subjects started drinking and through their early phases of experimental drinking, with the data to be gathered in the follow-up study, where alcohol use can escalate to problem drinking in the late adolescent, young adult years.