Children who have a family heritage of alcohol abuse are thought to have a genetic propensity to alcohol abuse. However, recent research suggests a way to limit this risk. This study recruited participants between 2004 and 2019 who were 12- to 22-years-old. The researchers interviewed these youth and assessed their brain functioning two times a year. The interviewers asked about substance abuse, mental health, closeness with mother and father between 12-17 years of age. They also collected information about the youths’ binge drinking, impulsiveness, and their parents’ alcohol/substance abuse. Based on their findings, the researchers record two interesting findings that held true regardless of their parent’s alcohol or drug use or their family’s socioeconomic status.
- A teen’s close relationship to his/her father was associated with more robust and developed areas of the brain associated with self-regulation and executive functioning, especially for sons.
- A teen’s close relationship to his/her mother was associated with less binge drinking, especially for daughters.
In other words, a teen’s close relationship with their parent decreases the likelihood of alcohol abuse by enhancing improved neurocognitive functioning. More specifically, having a warm, close relationship with one’s parent during the teen years helps the teen build a resilience based on improved neural networks for executive functioning and self-regulation.
With this in mind, two factors stand out as crucial in protecting your child from experiencing alcohol or substance abuse…two actions you can begin today:
- Model healthy behavior. Never underestimate the power of your example in your children’s lives. Do not overdrink. Do not “go for the buzz.” Do not drive drunk. Do not use illegal substances. Do not use prescription drugs beyond their prescribed use and amount. Maintain your own sobriety. Our children learn more from our behaviors than our teaching.
- Develop a warm, close relationship with your child. Maintain that relationship through their teen years and into adulthood. Spend time with your children. Learn about their interests. Invest in their lives. This research suggests that a warm, close relationship with your teen will help build a buffer of protection against alcohol and substance abuse.
Know what I like about these two actions that can promote our children’s long-term health? They invite me to live a healthy life in a joyous relationship with my family. Sounds like a good deal to me.