Parents’ drinking raises DUI risk for kids

U. FLORIDA (US) — Parents who drink, even moderately, may increase the risk their children will grow up and drive under the influence as adults.

A new study published in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention finds that about 6 percent of adolescents whose parents drank even sporadically reported driving under the influence at age 21, compared with just 2 percent of those whose parents did not imbibe.


The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that nearly 10,000 people die each year because of drunken driving.

“The main idea is that parents’ alcohol use has an effect on their kids’ behavior,” says Mildred Maldonado-Molina, associate professor of health outcomes and policy at the University of Florida and the paper’s lead author.

“It’s important for parents to know that their behavior has an effect not only at that developmental age when their kids are adolescents, but also on their future behavior as young adults.”

The study shows peer behavior can have an effect, particularly on youth who aren’t exposed to alcohol at home—having friends who drink alcohol is a risk factor for driving under the influence for teens whose parents did not drink. Also, kids whose parents and peers consumed alcoholic beverages were especially at risk—about 11 percent of these teens reported driving under the influence in their 20s.

But parents have more sway in influencing their children to drink than they may realize, Maldonado-Molina says. If a teen’s parents were drinkers, what their peers did has less of an impact.

“I think it is really important to understand the influence of parents and peers,” says Tara Kelley-Baker, a senior research scientist at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation who was not involved with the study. “Parents must understand the influence they have on their children. Some parents just assume they have lost their influence or that they never had it. Research has shown more and more that this is not the case.”

For the study, researchers examined data from nearly 10,000 adolescents collected as part of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. The study initially collected data from teens and their parents and then surveyed the children again seven years later.

The influence of peers and parents seemed to affect men and women the same way. There was no significant difference in risk factors between the genders. Not as much is known about women and DUI because most studies look at official records and arrests and women are less likely to be charged with DUI than men, though that gap is closing, Maldonado-Molina says.

“Their risk factors are similar and that calls for attention when developing interventions and prevention efforts.”

When it comes to curbing DUI, prevention efforts need to start before age 15 to help instill the consequences of getting behind the wheel after drinking alcohol, the researchers say. Education efforts need to include not only children, but parents as well, Maldonado-Molina says.

“The home is a really important source for these kids. (Parents’) may not perceive their drinking as negative, but it influences what is acceptable behavior.”

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