Are spanking and later alcohol abuse related? And if so, how are they related?
A provocative study concluded that children who are spanked are twice as likely to develop alcohol abuse problems. It found that they are more likely to engage in anti-social behavior as adults. Such children also had more anxiety disorders in adulthood.
The authors claim that spanking causes later alcohol abuse and other problems. But does spanking really lead to alcohol abuse?
There are good reasons to think not. For example, we know that children with impulsive natures are more likely to be spanked. And impulsive people may well be more likely to have drinking problems. That would include such things as fighting and driving while drunk.
If it’s not impulsivity, it may be sensation-seeking, aggression, or any of a number of other personality factors. They’re all linked with both being spanked and abusing alcohol.
Other research has suggested that having a drink at an early age causes later drinking problems. But does that early drink really cause drinking problems later?
Again, sensation-seeking, impulsivity, or any of a large number of other personal factors might lead to both. That is, trying alcohol at an early age and having drinking problems later in life.
Also the research itself has many other serious weaknesses. For example, asking adults to remembers specific events of their early childhood.
It also fails account for the fact that parents and their children share numerous genes in common. The list of weaknesses goes on and on.
So it’s not likely that either spanking or early drinking actually causes drinking problems among adults. But in spite of this, the spanking study has led to demands that spanking be outlawed.
Similarly, the questionable belief that trying alcohol at an early age causes later drinking problems is a basis for public policy in the U.S. That includes the “zero tolerance” policy.
On the other hand, we know from around the world a simple but essential fact. It’s that alcohol abuse is lower where young people learn about drinking in moderation from an early age.
Flawed research and faulty logic form a very weak basis on which to build alcohol policy.
Resources: Spanking and Later Alcohol Abuse
Children, Alcohol and Parenting. What Should Parents Do?
Underage Drinking Problems and Solutions. What Works.
Heath, D. (Ed.) Handbook on Alcohol and Culture. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1995.
Peele, S. Addiction Proof Your Child. NY: Three Rivers, 2007.
_______. Parent’s Guide to Preventing Alcohol and Drug Abuse. Minneapolis: CompCare, 1983.
1. MacMillan, H., et. al. Slapping and spanking in childhood and its association with lifelong prevalence of psychiatric disorders. Can Med Assn J, 1999, 161(7), 805-809.