Objective: Millions of US children are exposed to parents who are problem drinkers, yet there is little evidence about the effect of parental alcohol consumption on children's health. The aim of this study was to assess the association between children's injuries and parental drinking.
Design: Survey of a nationally representative sample of the US population by household interview.
Participants: 12,360 children and parents from single-family households, with data from the Alcohol and Child Health supplements to the 1988 National Health Interview Survey.
Main outcome measure: Serious injuries--injuries resulting in hospitalization, surgical treatment, missed school, one half day or more in bed.
Results: Children of mothers categorized as problem drinkers had 2.1 times the risk of serious injury as children of mothers who were nondrinkers (95% CI, 1.3 to 3.5). Other measures of mothers' alcohol consumption (ie, average, maximum, and self-rated consumption) were unrelated to child injuries, as were all measures of fathers' drinking. Children of women who were problem drinkers married to men rated as moderate or heavy drinkers had a relative risk of serious injury of 2.7 (95% CI, 0.8 to 8.6) compared with children of nondrinkers.
Conclusion: Children of women who are problem drinkers have an elevated injury risk; children with two parents who are problem drinkers are at higher risk. Further research is needed on potential mechanisms and interventions. Primary prevention might be enhanced if physicians elicited information about parental drinking, helped secure appropriate treatment, and participated in public health efforts to reduce the deleterious effects of alcohol.