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Parents’ Drug, Alcohol Use Has Huge Influence on Children

Parents who use drugs and alcohol as means of relaxing or celebrating can have a strong influence on children and adolescents.

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Family time. Shutterstock

By Paul Gaita

05/23/14

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Informing children about the dangers of drug and alcohol use is a challenge that every parent must face, but recent studies have indicated that one of the best ways to impart that information to young people is to reduce one’s own daily intake.

By incorporating alcohol or drugs into social occasions or as part of one's daily relaxation can have a strong influence on children and adolescents. “If you had a tough day, talk about it, verbalize it. Take a hot shower. Turn on music and relax a little. Do not model alcohol use as a way to self-medicate,” said Stephen Wallace, director for the Center for Adolescent Research and Education at Susquehanna University.

Research conducted by scientists from Dartmouth College and Dartmouth Medical School in 2005 underscored the implications of parental cues about drug and alcohol use on young children. In the study, a group of 120 children, all ages two-to-six years old, participated in a game in which dolls and props were used to prepare a “night out” for adults. Each child was encouraged to select items from a miniature grocery story stocked with 73 different products, including beer, wine, and cigarettes.

Of the 17 items or less bought by the children, alcohol was among the items chosen by 61 percent of the participants. The study also found that children whose parents drank alcohol on a monthly basis were more likely to include alcohol among their imaginary purchases at the store.

Studies have shown that the average age that children first experiment with marijuana is 14, while alcohol use can begin before the age of 12. Faced with such statistics, Wallace notes that it is crucial for parents to “engage early and often in honest dialogue and express parental expectations [about substance use].” It also remains imperative that parents reflect the core beliefs that they want their children to adopt.

“If parents don’t want their kids to [drink or use drugs], they shouldn’t be setting the example,” noted Dr. Joseph DiFranza  of the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

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