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* What scientific research tells us about parenting and underage drinking

(based, in part, on a literature review in McMorris, et al., 2011)

  • Adolescent alcohol use is related to a variety of problem behaviors, including drinking and driving (including automobile accidents and accompanying deaths and injuries), risky sex, poor school performance, suicide, and violence.  (Hingson and Kinkel, 2004; Sise et al. 2009; World Health Organization, 2008).
  • Although peer influence becomes increasingly important as an influence on teens’ decisions to use alcohol, parental influences remain powerful (Bahr et al., 1995; Guo et al., 2001; Hawkins et al., 1992,; Latendresse et al., 2008; Peterson et al., 1994; Reifman et al., 1998).
  • Longitudinal studies demonstrate that good parenting practices, including clear rules prohibiting alcohol use, monitoring of teenager’s behavior and whereabouts, and consistent consequences for violating rules, are related to decreases in teen alcohol use (Barnes et al., 2000; Brook et al., 1986; Chilcoat and Anthony, 1996; Kosterman et al., 2000; Nash et al., 2005; Sargent and Dalton, 2001.)
  • Parental attitudes favoring alcohol and other drug use tend to be linked with a greater likelihood of substance abuse by adolescents (Foley et al., 2004; Hawkins et al., 1992).  Approval of underage drinking is communicated by parents to children, who, in turn, develop favorable attitudes toward drinking (Ary et al., 1993; Brody et al., 1998; Foley et al., 2004; Hawkins et al., 1992).
  • Parental attitudes and behaviors that are more tolerant of alcohol use have the effect of increasing teens’ alcohol use in unsupervised settings (Foley et al., Yu, 2003).
  • Parental patterns in their own alcohol use and the involvement of their children in the adult use have been shown to be risk factors for teen alcohol use and other drug use (Chassin et al., 2003; Hawkins et al., 1992; Johnson and Leff, 1999; Li et al., 2002a).
  • In a major 2011 study conducted in the United States, where public policies tend to favor no-tolerance approaches to teen drinking, and in Australia, where public policies are more tolerant of alcohol use in youth, findings were similar:  Adult-supervised settings for alcohol use among youth resulted in higher levels of harmful alcohol consequences among youth.  These findings challenged the position that supervised alcohol use reduces the development of adolescent alcohol problems (McMorris et al, 2011)
  • Parental approval of underage drinking and provision of opportunities to use alcohol in supervised settings has been countered by local U.S. law enforcement efforts to charge parents for provision of alcohol to minors at home under social-host-liability laws which have recently been linked to significant reductions in drunk-driving fatalities among minors (Dills, 2010).


American Medical Association. (2006).  Teenage drinking:  Key findings of the Teenage Research Unlimited (TRU) survey of teenagers and Harris Interactive survey of parents. Chicago, IL:  Office of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse.

Ary, D. V., Tildesley E., Hops, H., & Andrews, J. (1993).  The influence of parent, sibling, and peer modeling and attitudes on adolescent use of alcohol.  International Journal of the Addictions, 28, 853-880.

Bahr, S.  J., Marcos, A. C., & Maughan, S. L. (1995, July).  Family, educational and peer influences on the alcohol use of female and male adolescents.  Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 56, 457-469.

Barnes, G. M., Reifman, A. S., Farrell, M. P., & Dintcheff, B. A. (2000). The effects of parenting on the development of adolescent alcohol misuse: A six-wave latent growth model.  Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62, 175-186.

Brody, G. H., Flor, D. L., Hollett-Wright, N., & McCoy, J. K. (1998). Children's development of alcohol use norms: Contributions of parent and sibling norms, children’s temperaments, and parent-child discussions.  Journal of Family Psychology, 12, 209-219.

Brook, J. S.,Whiteman, M., Gordon, A. S., Nomura, C., & brook, D. W. (1986).  Onset of adolescent drinking:  A longitudinal study of intrapersonal and interpersonal antecedents.  Advances in Alcohol & Substance Abuse, 5, 91-110.

Chilcoat, H. D., & Anthony, J. C. (1996).  Impact of parent monitoring on initiation of drug use through late childhood.  Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 35, 91-100.

Dills, A. K. (2010).  Social host liability for minors and underage drunk-driving accidents.  Journal of Health Economics, 29, 241-249.

Foley, K. L., Altman, D., Durant, R. H., & Wolfson, M. (2004).  Adults’ approval and adolescents’ alcohol use.  Journal of Adolescent Health, 35, 345.e17-345.e26.

Guo, J., Hawkins, J. D., Hill, K. G., & Abbott, R. D. (2001).  Childhood and adolescent predictors of alcohol abuse and dependence in young adulthood.  Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 62, 754-762.