ALCOHOL’S EFFECTS ON THE FAMILY
In addition to the harm that alcohol consumption causes for drinkers themselves, family members—especially spouses and children—are likely to be harmed as well (Maffli 2001). Both spouses and children can be victims of alcohol–related violence, and children can also suffer medical and social problems that may persist into adulthood.
Effects on Children
Parental alcohol use can influence a child by genetic or prenatal means or by its impact on the child’s environment (Schuckit 1994; Schuckit and Smith 1996; Windle 1997). Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is one of the most common direct consequences of parental alcohol use. Three to 10 out of every 10,000 babies born in the United States have been estimated to have fetal alcohol syndrome, but some sources estimate up to 30 or more FAS cases per 10,000 (Larkby and Day 1997; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2000). An Institute of Medicine report estimated that 0.5 to 3 cases of FAS occur per 1,000 births (Stratton et al. 1996).
Child abuse can be another direct consequence of parental alcohol use. English and colleagues (1995) concluded, based on evidence from case studies, that alcohol use is a cause of child abuse in an estimated 16 percent of cases. Criteria for their assessment included “reported misuse of alcohol in the family,” “intoxication reported by perpetrator,” or “history of alcoholism.” These authors could not identify any study that linked the risk of child abuse to particular levels of alcohol intake, however, nor could the authors of a followup report (Ridolfo and Stevenson 2001).
Parental drinking can affect the environment in which a child grows up by playing a part in:
- Acute and chronic financial strain—for example, because of excessive unemployment (Marmot et al. 1993)
- Poor parenting—for example, a coercive interaction style, inconsistent reinforcement of good behavior, or unclear behavioral expectations by the parents (Jacob and Johnson 1997)
- Marital conflicts and family breakup (Eurocare 1998; Leonard and Rothbard 1999)
- Creating expectations—that is, teaching the child to expect specific results from drinking (Sher et al. 1996).
These factors, and any interaction between them, may have a powerful impact on the life of a growing child.