The Influence of Parental Drinking Attitudes and Behavior in the Drinking Patterns of Black and White Adults

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The purpose of this study is to compare the influence of parent drinking attitudes and behavior on the drinking patterns of U.S. black and white adults. The importance of parents as a source of influence on drinking behavior has been emphasized in socialization theories which stress the primacy of parent-child relationships and the critical roles parents play as role models and as agents for imparting moral values and normative codes (Biddle et al., 1980; Bank et al., 1985; Kandel, and Andrews, 1987). In addition, parental and familial dynamics have been described as the major vehicle of cultural transmission through which particular styles of drinking are learned and passed on to members of ethnic group subcultures (Greeley et al., 1983).

Despite the increasing interest in adult children of alcoholics, very little research has explored whether or not the drinking practices of adults (aside from problem drinking) are associated with those of their parents once they are past adolescence. The few studies that have examined this relationship have generally concluded that the drinking patterns of parents and their adult offsprings are significantly related. Haer's earlier survey in the state of Washington (1955) found that the frequency of drinking among adult men and their fathers was highly correlated, but little association was observed in the relationship between men's drinking and that of their mothers. However, among women, moderate relationships were reported in the frequency of drinking with both parents. The results of a national survey (Cahalan et al., 1969), indicated that respondents' drinking rates and patterns were strongly associated with parental drinking attitudes and frequency. Abstainers and infrequent drinkers were much less likely than others to report that either of their parents had approved of drinking or drank at least twice monthly. In addition, Fillmore et al.'s (1979) longitudinal study of college students showed that the frequency of parental drinking and parental attitudes served as an important predictor of drinking versus abstaining in youth and to a lessor extent of drinking patterns in middle age.

A recent series of longitudinal studies by Webster et al. (1989) and Gleiberman et al. (1991) provide unique data showing that parental drinking behavior is associated with the drinking patterns of adult offspring throughout adulthood. For example, both abstaining fathers and mothers seemed to affect whether their offspring abstained during the early adult years and whether their adult children remained abstainers in later life (Gleiberman, et al. 1991). The drinking patterns of parents and adult offspring also appeared to converge as the offspring aged so that those who initially drank less than their parents increased their drinking and those who drank more decreased their drinking levels. Another study in this series (Harburg et al., 1990) explored non-imitative drinking behavior in adult offspring who appeared to moderate their drinking levels in response to parents who drank with high frequency and/or who exhibited drinking problems.

The studies described above suggest that parental drinking background may be an important antecedent of adult drinking practices but their applicability to drinking among black Americans remains largely unexplored. Most existing research has been conducted with samples that included few or no black respondents. The national survey described by Cahalan et al. (1969) did include a relatively small group of non-white respondents (N=216 out of a total of 2746 interviewed) and the reported lower rates of parental drinking levels and approval of alcohol use than most of the other ethnic groups described. However the category "non-white" was not broken down by particular racial or ethnic group and the relationship between parental and respondeat drinking behavior was not analyzed for those classified as "non-white". One other study (Rao, Rao and Benjamin, 1979) concerning this topic appears in the literature and focused on a black college student population. …