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PUI: Parenting Under the Influence

By: Carol Morriscey

Alcohol Use and Children

Typically, we only view heavy parental drinking as being harmful to children. However, it appears that even moderate drinking can have insidious effects. As a society, we are well aware of the negative consequences a parent’s heavy drinking can have on their children. However, less well known are the negative effects of a parent’s moderate drinking. Even moderate drinking can have serious short- and long-term effects on children. A recent study found that almost one third of parents have been drunk in front of their child, while half report some degree of intoxication, or being “tipsy”. And although each of the parents included in the study did not surpass the recommended low-risk guidelines of consuming no more than 14 drinks a week, there remained significant impacts on their children as a result of their drinking.

The Short-Term Effects of Parental Alcohol Use on Children

Often, parents assume that their children do not notice their drinking, especially if it’s moderate. However, this is not the case. Not only do children notice their parent’s moderate drinking, but there is evidence that is has negative impacts on them. For example, a study conducted by Institute of Alcohol Studies found that seeing parents become intoxicated elicited feelings of worry and embarrassment in children. Further, it increased the instance of conflict in the parent-child relationship, and disrupted the child’s bedtime. These consequences may act to decrease the child’s quality of life if they commonly occur.

The Long-Term Effects of Parental Alcohol Use on Children

Indeed, there are short-term effects of seeing a parent become intoxicated. However, there are also more significant and long-lasting effects of parental drinking. Parental drinking patterns are predictive of their children’s future drinking patterns. In addition, sharing negative experiences with alcohol use may glamorize drinking for children, and increase the likelihood of alcohol abuse. Further, regardless of whether a parent has spoken to their children about appropriate drinking, their actual behaviour and own drinking has a larger influence than what they say. Children’s views regarding alcohol and drinking directly reflect their parents drinking behaviour.

Despite the misconceptions that children don’t notice moderate drinking, or that moderate drinking does not affect them, parents need to be conscious of the effects of their drinking on their children. Even moderate drinking can have serious short- and long-term effects on children. Luckily, once aware of the consequences, they are easily avoided by limiting your drinking to times when your children are not around. If you have trouble limiting your drinking and would like help, please call Searidge Foundation to speak with one of our caring counsellors.

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