The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Exposure to Parent and Peer Alcohol Use and the Risk of Drinking Onset and Escalation Among Adolescents

Thursday, January 17, 2013: 4:00 PM
Nautilus 2 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Karen A. Randolph, PhD, Associate Professor, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL
Leah Powell Cheatham, JD, MSW, Doctoral student, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL
Jaclyn Williams, MSW, Doctoral Student, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL
Ursula Keller Weiss, MS, Doctoral Candidate, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL
Background and Purpose: In explaining adolescent behavior, developmental theorists posit that parental influences weaken and peer influences strengthen as adolescents age (Bonnie & O’Connell, 2004). However, this may not explain all behaviors. With regard to drug involvement, the influence of parents and peers varies by drug type (Kandel, 1985), and Bauman and others (2001) report that the relative effects of parent and peer smoking on teen cigarette use do not vary as adolescents age. Extrapolating from Bauman et al., we examine two changes in adolescent alcohol use across time—not drinking to drinking onset and experimental to moderate/heavy use—to assess the effects of parent and peer alcohol use on another important behavior—underage drinking.

Methods: The sample includes 9,348 adolescents who participated in the first two waves of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and whose parents completed interviews at Wave I (WI). Cases were divided into non-drinkers and experimental drinkers. Reports of alcohol use at Wave II (WII) were used to determine onset among WI non-drinkers and escalation among WI experimental drinkers. Risk ratios (RR) were calculated to determine results. An RR is the probability of experiencing an outcome when exposed to a risk factor divided by the probability of experiencing an outcome when not exposed to the risk factor. The impact of exposure to parent or peer alcohol use on onset and escalation was examined across five age points (i.e., ≤13, 14, 15, 16, ≥17). 

Results: The relative impact of exposure to WI risk factors (i.e., parent or peer alcohol use) on changes in teen drinking varied across each risk factor and by the type of change. Among those who started drinking by WII, the magnitudes of parent RRs remained fairly consistent (RR=1.8) through age 16 and then increased to 2.12 among adolescents ≥17. A curvilinear pattern was found for WI non-drinkers exposed to peers who drank, where drinking onset RRs were highest among the youngest (≤13; RR=2.40) and oldest (≥17; RR=2.44) groups. Among escalators, the magnitudes of parent RRs decreased as adolescents aged, whereas peer RRs increased to 2.56 at age 15 and then decreased to 2.12 by ages ≥17.

Conclusions and Implications: These findings suggest that developmental explanations for adolescent risk behavior may vary with regard to specific risk factors and type of behavioral changes across time. Our results call into question conventional beliefs about the waning influence of parents as adolescents age (Kandel, 1996). Among adolescents who initiated drinking, and for escalators exposed to peer alcohol use, these findings contradict conventional beliefs about the nature of parent and peer influence on adolescent behavior, and are congruent with those reported by Bauman et al. In contrast, results for escalators exposed to parent drinking are consistent with Erikson’s (1968) notion: the impact of exposure to parent drinking on adolescent drinking decreases over time. Implications in advancing practice regarding parents’ roles in preventing underage drinking include education about the impact of their own behaviors on their children and the importance of monitoring children’s friendships.