Parents should drink less in front of their children if they want to prevent their offspring becoming binge drinkers, a new report suggests today.
The authors of research by the think-tank Demos said it was “not enough” for parents to wait until their children were in bed before opening the bottle, because their interviews suggested “children are more aware than they are often given credit for.”
They added: “Nor does this mean that parents can never drink in the presence of their children. But it does mean that parents should bear in mind how frequently they are drinking – particularly in front of their children.”
The two-year study, Feeling the Effects, studied the lives of 17,000 in Birth Cohort Study and in-depth interviews with 50 families where there was at least one problem drinkers.
Parents with high alcohol consumption were less likely to practise the “tough love” type of parenting which best stops children developing traits associated with excessive drinking, the authors, Jonathan Birdwell, Emma Vandore and Bryanna Hahn, said.
They found that teenagers who perceived their mother to drink “always” were almost two times more likely to drink hazardously themselves as adults than those who reported that their mother drank “sometimes”.
Parents who “always” drank were between two times less likely to be “tough love” parents – characterised as “high love, high discipline” - than moderate drinkers.
The authors warned: “Many parents think their drinking has little or no impact on their families, convincing themselves that if they feed and clean their children and make sure they attend school, they have fulfilled their most important parenting duties.
“Parenting is not easy, and recent reports suggest that some parents – particularly among the middle classes – reach for the bottle at night to cope with the stress.
“Yet our research in this report suggests, alcohol misuse is potentially hampering their ability to be the most effective, tough love type of parent, which in turn increases the risk of their children developing character traits which could expose them to problematic drinking behaviour.”
The report concluded that the Government’s attempts to curb the UK’s hazardous drinking culture “would be more effective if they focused on encouraging better parenting, particularly among parents misusing alcohol.”
At present the Government is consulting on a plan to introduce a 45p minimum price for alcohol which would raise the price of the cheapest ciders, lagers, vodkas, gin and wine.
Irresponsible drinking costs the taxpayer £21 billion a year and there were nearly a million alcohol-related violent crimes and 1.2 million alcohol-related hospital admissions last year, according to the Home Office.
To stop excessive drinking being handed down from one generation to another, Demos recommending prioritising parenting advice during alcohol support programmes; running a public awareness campaign on parenting style and alcohol consumption; and training GPs and midwives to identify parents who drink excessively.
Jonathan Birdwell, a co-author, said: “The Prime Minister has said that Britain’s binge drinking culture needs to be ‘attacked from every angle’ but the policy proposals tend to be limited to technocratic solutions like minimum pricing.
“Our research suggests that focusing on parenting could be the most effective way of reducing hazardous drinking levels in the UK, especially in the long-term.”
“All the research suggests that failure to address these underlying drivers of alcoholism means that higher prices will not deter heavy drinking parents from feeding their addiction,” he added.
Demos’ study was funded by the brewer SAB Miller, which is opposed to the minimum price. Demos said its findings and recommendations were “fully independent” of the funding.