Can a parent’s drinking habits increase the risk of alcoholism for a teenager?
According to the National Institutes of Health, a family history of alcoholism is a major risk factor for problem drinking. In addition, some studies have found that certain genes passed from parents to children increase the risk for alcoholism. Many other factors play a part in teenage drinking, including peer pressure and stress. Still, it seems clear that parent’s drinking habits influence how their children use or misuse alcohol.
The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence says 76 million Americans have a family member with a drinking problem. Most of those people are family members of a person with alcoholism, and many of them are teenagers. Council statistics show that teens with parents who are alcoholics have a higher risk of developing alcohol problems.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a teenager at risk for alcoholism often: 1) begins using alcohol at any early age, sometimes before age 15; 2) has a parent who is a problem drinker; 3) has friends who abuse alcohol; 4) has anger control issues or other behavior problems; 5) has suffered physical or mental abuse; and 6) comes from a home with poor communication among family members. One or more risk factors does not doom a teenager to alcoholism, but does increase his or her risk.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services warns that alcohol abuse can reduce a teen’s concentration and make it harder to pay attention in school. Almost one-third of traffic accident deaths among teens involve intoxicated teen drivers. Alcohol abuse also increases a young person’s risk for injury and/or involvement with violence and other risk-taking behaviors.
Parents may think of alcohol abuse as a normal life experience—part of growing up. In fact, people who drink heavily at a young age are much more likely to have drinking problems as adults.
To reach out to teens at risk for alcohol abuse: Act as a role model, using alcohol in moderation if at all. Improve communication by talking to teens about the risks of alcohol abuse. Avoid telling stories that make heavy drinking sound like a fun or harmless activity. Demonstrate healthy ways to cope with stress, including relaxation techniques, exercise, listening to music and talking over problems. Avoid drinking and driving. Always offer alternatives to alcohol at parties and dinners. If a teen exhibits signs of a drink problem, do not wait for her or him to outgrow it. Seek professional counseling for the teen and the family.
Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Alateen offer support and include counseling and group sessions for teens with drinking problems and for teens whose parents abuse alcohol.