Parents' Alcohol Problems May Up Risk of Teen Dating Violence

A new study from the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions in New York finds that having a parent with an alcohol use disorder increases the risk for dating violence among teenagers.

“Although teen dating violence is typically viewed as a problem related specifically to adolescent development, our findings indicate that the risk for aggressive behavior and involvement in dating violence are related to stressors experienced much earlier in life,” said researcher Jennifer A. Livingston, Ph.D.

The study appears in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

For the research, Livingston evaluated 144 teenagers who had fathers with an alcohol use disorder and who had been initially recruited for study at 12 months of age.

By analyzing data collected regularly over the course of their lifespan, Livingston was able to identify factors that led to abusive dating relationships for some of the teens.

“It appears that family dynamics occurring in the preschool years and in middle childhood are critical in the development of aggression and dating violence in the teenage years,” she said.

Mothers living with partners who have alcohol use disorder tended to be more depressed and, as a result, were less warm and sensitive in their interactions with their children, beginning in infancy.

“This is significant because children with warm and sensitive mothers are better able to regulate their emotions and behavior,” Livingston says. “In addition, there is more marital conflict when there is alcohol addiction.”

These conditions can interfere with children’s abilities to control their own behavior, resulting in higher levels of aggression in early and middle childhood.

Research has found that children who are more aggressive in childhood, particularly with their siblings, are more likely to be aggressive with their romantic partners during their teen years.

“Our findings underscore the critical need for early intervention and prevention with families who are at-risk due to alcohol problems. Mothers with alcoholic partners are especially in need of support,” Livingston said.

“Our research suggests the risk for violence can be lessened when parents are able to be more warm and sensitive in their interactions with their children during the toddler years.

“This in turn can reduce marital conflict and increase the children’s self-control, and ultimately reduce involvement in aggressive behavior.”

Source: University of Buffalo