The children of parents with alcohol problems are at much
greater risk for underage drinking and developing a substance use
disorder. The approach to preventing alcohol and drug use by
some adolescents should begin in early childhood, suggests a research
from the University at Buffalo Research Institute on
The study's author, Rina Das Eiden, senior research
scientist at RIA, said, "It's important to understand when and under what
circumstances such problems develop, so we can craft interventions to
steer this high-risk population away from substance use and its
‘Timing interventions in early childhood and before major developmental transitions may be beneficial in preventing adolescent substance use.’
Eiden examined different pathways to adolescent substance use,
starting in infancy, for children of parents with alcohol use disorder
(AUD), and found that maternal warmth and sensitivity in early childhood
played a significant role.
"When mothers can be warm and sensitive during interactions with
their toddlers, even under the stresses associated with their partners'
alcohol problems, there is a lower likelihood of adolescent substance
use," Eiden says.
Parents with AUD demonstrated lower rates of maternal sensitivity
toward their toddlers, continuing into kindergarten age, Eiden found.
As the children entered middle school (6th grade), their mothers were
less likely to monitor peer groups and activities, leading to higher
engagement with substance-using and delinquent peers and drinking in
early adolescence (8th grade).
These children also displayed lower self-regulation, or the
ability to behave according to rules without supervision, at preschool
age, leading to problem behaviors from kindergarten age to early
adolescence and higher alcohol and marijuana use in late adolescence.
The results have implications for both the timing and content of
preventive interventions against substance use among adolescents of
parents with AUD. Timing interventions in early childhood and before
major developmental transitions, such as transition to school and moving
from elementary to middle school, may be most beneficial.
For content, the most helpful interventions would be to encourage
and support mothers in being warm and sensitive during interactions
with their toddlers, and to keep a close eye their children's activities
and peer groups during the transition from middle childhood to early
"This attention also would promote children's self-regulation in
the preschool years, which may lead to a decrease in problem behaviors
from school age into adolescence," Eiden says.