Parent alcoholism impacts the severity and timing of children's externalizing symptoms

J Abnorm Child Psychol. 2010 Apr;38(3):367-80. doi: 10.1007/s10802-009-9374-5.


Although previous studies show that children of alcoholic parents have higher rates of externalizing symptoms compared to their peers, it remains unclear whether the timing of children's externalizing symptoms is linked to that of their parent's alcohol-related symptoms. Using a multilevel modeling approach, we tested whether children aged 2 through 17 showed elevated mother-, father- and child-reported externalizing symptoms (a) at the same time that parents showed alcohol-related consequences (time-varying effects), (b) if parents showed greater alcohol-related consequences during the study period (proximal effects), and (c) if parents had a lifetime diagnosis of alcoholism that predated the study period (distal effects). We used integrative data analysis to combine samples from two prospective studies to test these hypotheses. Distal effects of parent alcoholism on increased child externalizing symptoms were large and consistent. In addition, proximal and time-varying effects of parent alcohol symptoms were also found. Implications for preventing escalations in externalizing symptoms among this high-risk population are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adolescent
  • Alcoholism / diagnosis
  • Alcoholism / psychology*
  • Child
  • Child Behavior Disorders / psychology*
  • Child of Impaired Parents / psychology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internal-External Control
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Models, Psychological
  • Parent-Child Relations
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Patient Selection
  • Personality Development
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Behavior
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires