‘Positive parenting’ can reduce the risk of alcohol and other substance abuse in adulthood, a new University of Otago, Christchurch study has found.

Professor Joe Boden and his team analysed data from the Christchurch Health and Development Study – a world-renowned longitudinal study that has followed the lives of more than 1000 people born in Canterbury in 1977.

They found people living in a more positive, warm home environment during adolescence had lower rates of alcohol and substance use disorders, mental ill health, general stress and were less likely to experience unemployment than their peers.

Of particular significance was the link between ‘positive parenting’ and a lower risk of alcoholism. The researchers found those who experienced the least positive parenting were roughly twice as likely to have alcohol use disorder as adults compared with others.

‘Positive parenting’ is warm, supportive, and not overly-controlling, authoritative or punitive. It also involves a home free of intimate partner violence or harsh parental physical punishment.

Professor Boden says the Christchurch Health and Development Study has extensive information on many aspects of participants’ lives from childhood to adulthood, including their exposure to violence, substance issues and information on how they perceived their parents’ style of parenting.

The researchers analysed how participants described their mother and father’s parental style – either caring or overprotective. Levels of conflict and exposure to violence and physical punishment during childhood and adolescence were also measured.

The researchers then looked at participants alcohol use and abuse scores at ages 15, 21, 25, 30 and 35. Sophisticated statistical analysis allowed them to ‘cast out’ any other childhood and adolescent factors, and focus squarely on the impact of parenting style on alcoholism.

“Parents establish norms around drinking in childhood and adolescence and their attitudes and behaviour can influence their offspring’s use. What our study has shown is that parenting style – either warm or controlling – could be a far more important, and controllable factor, in people’s propensity for alcohol problems later in life than whether they allow their adolescent’s access to alcohol or whether they drink or not,” he says.

“Alcohol misuse is a preventable source of social physical and psychological harm that typically starts in adolescence. So this is a critical time in a person’s life and a time when, as we have found, a certain type of parenting style can lower risk.”

Professor Boden says the reason for the link between positive parenting and a lower risk of alcoholism is not explored in the study, but the parenting style has been shown in other research studies to be associated with a number of other positive outcomes for offspring.

He says it is not possible to ‘draw out individual cases’, such as those who become alcoholics despite an ideal childhood and adolescent home environment.

“However, believe it or not, the ‘black’ sheep’ seems to be rarer than people might imagine,’’ Professor Boden says.

“The effect of positive parenting on risk of alcoholism was part of a more general effect in which people who had been raised with a more positive parenting style were also less likely to have an anxiety, or cannabis use disorder as an adult, and reported lower life stress and were less likely to be unemployed. Positive parenting seems to be associated with a range of benefits for young people as they become adults.”


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