Home  |   Subscribe  |   Resources  |   Reprints  |   Writers' Guidelines

Research Review

Study Aims to Help Preschool-Age Children of Parents with Drinking Problems

Children who grow up with a parent with a drinking problem have been shown to suffer from depression, anxiety, acting out, and academic and social difficulties. Some of these problems begin as early as age 2; however, the few prevention programs that exist for children of alcoholic parents are typically aimed at students in middle school or older.

Andrea Hussong, PhD, a clinical psychologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, hopes to change that. Along with her colleagues in the UNC College of Arts and Sciences’ psychology department, Hussong is developing an early prevention program called Families First, designed for families of preschool-age children who are living with a parent with a drinking problem.

The preschool years are an ideal developmental period for intervention because risk behaviors such as aggression may become more difficult to change if they are not addressed before children enter elementary school, Hussong says.

“Many of the young children with whom I have worked in community mental health care were struggling to find ways to cope with parent alcoholism and problem drinking before they entered school,” Hussong says. “Our goal is to work with families one on one to address issues common to healthy family development for all of us—promoting positive relationships with children, effective discipline practices, and healthy emotional and social development.”

“We know that signs of emotional distress in early childhood predict greater risk for substance use in adolescence and young adulthood,” Hussong says. “My work has been aimed at connecting the dots along this developmental pathway to identify and evaluate whether there is an ‘internalizing pathway’ to substance use disorders.”

— Source: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill