April 2002Vol. 3, No. 3Study Explores Impact of Alcoholism on Father-Infant Interactions
An ongoing study at the University at Buffalo's Research Institute on Addictions is shedding light on the impact of paternal alcoholism on parent-infant interactions. Previous studies with older children of alcoholics found chaotic home environments, often characterized by negative parenting behaviors. This study examines negative interactions as early as infancy with a goal of targeting affected families for early parenting interventions.
In the study, 204 families with 12-month-old infants were recruited. The families were classified in one of two groups: a control group with no or few current alcohol problems, and a father alcoholic/alcohol-abusing group. Within the father alcoholic group, the majority of mothers (82 percent) were light drinkers or abstainers, and 18 percent were heavy drinkers or had current alcohol problems.
The families were asked to participate in observed interactions with their infants at four different ages (12, 18, 24, and 36 months) with three visits at each age. The 12- and 18-month visits focused on parent-infant interactions and attachment, while the 24- and 36-month visits focused on parenting and toddler self-regulation. Interactions during these visits were videotaped and rated. The investigators focused on three areas of parental behavior during interactions: negative affect, positive affect, and sensitivity.
Results of this study have indicated that alcoholic fathers displayed lower sensitivity, lower positive affect, and higher negative affect in their interactions with their infants than did nonalcoholic fathers. Not surprisingly, risk factors associated with paternal alcoholism, such as fathers' aggression, antisocial behavior, and depression, were linked with decreased paternal sensitivity.
The parenting behavior of women married to alcoholic men did not differ from the parenting behavior of women married to non-alcoholic men. As in previous studies, there was a correlation between maternal depression and alcoholism and lower levels of sensitivity when interacting with her child.
Overall, the infants of alcoholic fathers were less responsive to their fathers than were children of nonalcoholic fathers. Results of the study suggest that maladjustment among children of alcoholic fathers can manifest itself as early as 12 months of age. Depression and alcohol problems were associated with decreased sensitivity among both mothers and fathers.
Rina Das Eiden, Ph.D.
1021 Main Street
Buffalo, NY 14203