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Kids of Heavy Drinkers Face Multiple Threats to Health

THURSDAY, Aug. 12, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- Death, injuries, abuse and mental health disorders are among the many harms faced by children whose parents are heavy drinkers, Danish researchers say.

"Within the last 10 years, there has been an expansion of research on consequences that extend beyond the drinker," wrote lead author Julie Brummer, a doctoral student in psychology and behavioral sciences at Aarhus University, Denmark, and colleagues.

"Although some studies show that harm because of strangers' drinking may be more prevalent, harms caused by close relations, such as household family members and friends, may be more severe and distressing," they wrote.

Brummer noted that most research on drinking-related dangers to family members has relied on self-reports, but parents may underreport impacts on their children.

This new paper included a review of 91 studies of hospital and other centralized records to provide a more accurate assessment of how a family member's drinking can affect children.

This method -- called register-based study, often used in Nordic countries -- allowed "more serious, persistent and rare outcomes" to be addressed, according to the researchers.

They identified several consequences among kids whose parents drank heavily -- including death during infancy or childhood, mental health disorders and criminal convictions later in life.

The children were also more likely to do poorly in school, to suffer abuse and/or neglect, to wind up in foster care and be hospitalized for physical illness and injury.

The study was published Aug. 5in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

"Registers are able to easily link immediate family members and follow individuals over extended periods of time to study long-term outcomes," Brummer said in a journal news release.

Anne-Marie Laslett, of the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, wrote a commentary that accompanied the findings.

She agreed that register-based studies can be a valuable tool in protecting those at greatest risk from family members' drinking.

The paper "points toward a wider scope in which register data sets can contribute to documenting, investigating and prevention planning for harms from others' drinking," Laslett wrote. "Mining them will improve our understanding of how [alcohol's harms to others] can be reduced."

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on excessive alcohol use.

SOURCE: Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, news release, Aug. 5, 2021

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