Harm Caused by Family Alcoholism Is Severe and Distressing

What’s New in Psychology?

Harm Caused by Family Alcoholism Is Severe and Distressing

 Jim Windell

             Being the child of an alcoholic is never easy. Although we now know that growing up in a home where there is alcoholism does not necessarily lead to a child becoming an alcoholic, still there are multiple threats to one’s health from this kind of exposure.

                Danish researchers say that among the threats faced by children whose parents are heavy drinkers are death, injuries, abuse and mental health disorders.

            In a study published in Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, researchers in Denmark reviewed the literature to answer several questions. Those questions included:

  1. What harms/outcomes for family members of heavy drinkers have been investigated?
  2. What are the main findings of register-based studies, and how do the findings differ from those of survey-based studies, if at all?
  3. What are the gaps in existing register-based research on alcohol's harms to family members?

           The authors of this review were aware that the scientific literature over the past 10 years has shown that harm caused by close relations, such as household family members and friends, may be fairly severe and distressing. But they were also aware that data about the magnitude of alcohol's harms to others has typically relied on self-report surveys – which, of course, can be influenced by individual, cultural, or temporal factors. Some of the limitations of self-report surveys could be addressed by complementing such research with register-based data. But prior to this research, it was found that the contribution of register-based studies has not been adequately reviewed. Register-based studies analyze existing population registers consisting of individual-level data, which have been systematically collected and regularly updated on a complete target population. Like surveys, register-based research has the advantage of large study populations, and registers’ wide population coverage minimizes biases attributable to selection and attrition.

           Since register studies can identify relatives and link records via a personal identification number, they are a fruitful source of information for alcohol's harms to family members. Previous reviews have investigated outcomes for the family as a whole and for children specifically, but the authors were unaware of reviews that had explored the contribution of register-based research.

           The aim of this current review was to map the literature on register-based studies of alcohol's harms to family members. The researchers used the scoping review methodology, which, although similar to that of a systematic review, is guided by the unique objective of charting the available literature on a research topic. This process of identifying and presenting the literature is distinguished by broader coverage and handling of the subject. Scoping reviews have as their main objectives to broadly describe all available research on a broad topic and identify understudied aspects.

           In this study, the review of records was carried out in August 2019, in which studies were identified by searching three electronic research literature databases (PubMed/MEDLINE, EMBASE, and PsycINFO), using subject headings and terms related to relationship to the drinker, exposure, and data source. A final source was the reference lists of all included records. While some scoping reviews may include nontraditional information sources, also known as grey literature, this review included only peer-reviewed studies. That resulted in 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.

           Lead author Julie Brummer, a doctoral student in psychology and behavioral sciences at Aarhus University, Denmark, and her colleagues identified several consequences among kids whose parents drank heavily. These consequences included death during infancy or childhood, mental health disorders and criminal convictions later in life. Children of alcoholics 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.

           “Within the last 10 years, there has been an expansion of research on consequences that extend beyond the drinker,” wrote Julie Brummer. “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.”

           Brummer noted that most research on drinking-related dangers to family members has relied on self-reports, but parents may under report impacts on their children. By using registers, she said, they were able to link immediate family members and follow individuals over extended periods of time to study long-term outcomes.

           This paper “points toward a wider scope in which register data sets can contribute to documenting, investigating and prevention planning for harms from others' drinking,” according to Anne-Marie Laslett, of the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, who wrote a commentary that accompanied the findings.

            Laslett wrote that exploring the data on harms to family members will improve our understanding of how alcohol's harms to others can be reduced. She agreed that register-based studies can be a valuable tool in protecting those at greatest risk from family members' drinking.

           To read the original article, find it with this reference:

Julie Brummer, Morton Hesse, Kirsten Sondergaard Frederiksen & Kim Bloomfield. (2021). How Do Register-Based Studies Contribute to Our Understanding of Alcohol's Harms to Family Members? A Scoping Review of Relevant Literature. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 82(4), 445–456.



Share this post:

Comments on "Harm Caused by Family Alcoholism Is Severe and Distressing"

Comments 0-5 of 0

Please login to comment