Father’s Drinking May Affect Relationship Between Mother and Child

Buffalo, NY —- Heavy drinking by fathers can negatively affect the quality of the mother and infant’s relationship, according to a recent study by the Research Institute on Addictions (RIA). Preliminary results, published last week in Development and Psychopathology, show that infants of heavy drinking fathers are less likely to have secure attachments with their mothers.
Researcher Rina Das Eiden, Ph.D. explained that infants normally form attachments with the primary caregiver, who is usually the mother. In sensitive and nurturing relationships, the attachment is secure. When contacts are insensitive or inconsistent, however, attachments are insecure. “In an insecure attachment, the child may pull away from or be unable to be comforted by the mother,” said Dr. Eiden. “These children may be at greater risk for behavior problems in later childhood.”

Researchers interviewed mothers of fifty-five families in Western New York. Questionnaires were used to assess the level of depression of the mother. The relationship between the infant and mother was studied through videotaped sessions. Families were recruited so that almost half had heavy drinking fathers. Two thirds of infants in these families had insecure attachments with their mothers, compared to only one third in families with light- drinking fathers.

For this study, drinking 60 or more drinks per month was considered heavy drinking. Dr. Eiden pointed out that heavy drinkers for this study did not drink as much as alcoholics. “In families with alcoholic fathers, the effects may be even more severe. The father’s parenting and his relationship with his wife may be more problematic.”

Dr. Eiden explained that the father’s alcohol use also contributes to characteristics of the mother, such as depression and satisfaction with marriage. Mothers with heavy drinking partners reported more depression and less marital satisfaction than those with light drinking partners. These maternal factors play a large role in the relationship between infant and mother, increasing the likelihood of an insecure attachment.

The study is the first to examine the impact of the father’s heavy drinking on family processes during infancy. Dr. Eiden feels these findings are important in studying problems of children of heavy drinkers. Recent research suggests that children of alcoholic fathers may be at risk for interpersonal and behavioral problems and substance abuse. “By understanding the relationship between the father’s drinking and family interactions when a child is an infant, we can better understand the problems of children of alcoholics.”

The Research Institute on Addictions is a component of the New York State Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services (OASIS). It is also affiliated with the University at Buffalo. Since 1970, the Institute has been recognized as a world leader in research on alcohol and substance abuse. Presently, over 30 research projects are underway at the Center, supported by over $40 million in federal, state, and private funds.

RIA scientists conduct research on all aspects of alcohol and substance abuse, including its causes, physical, psychological and social effects, and effective methods for treatment and intervention. The Institute also houses an addiction treatment center and an extensive research library.