Sweden: Fewer Parents Think Alcohol Use Around Kids Is Inappropriate*

According to the new IQ Alcohol Index in Sweden, fewer parents thin alcohol use around kids is inappropriate.

IQ is an independent sister company of Systembolaget, the Swedish government-run alcohol retail monopoly. IQ works in three areas to help prevent and reduce alcohol harm in Swedish society: knowledge, communication and network.

Every year IQ surveys Swedes’ attitude about alcohol. The alcohol index is created from answers to nine questions and presented on a scale of 0-100, where 0 is the most permissive and 100 is the most restrictive attitiude. The 2019 survey included 4141 people.

According to the index, over the past 10 years, attitudes towards alcohol have become more permissive, shown from the increase in the “moderate” group from 36% to 42%.

More people also think it was okay to consume alcohol in the presence of children. In 2011, 67% thought it was completely wrong to consume alcohol in the presence of children, but in 2019 only 51% thought so.

Karin Hagman, CEO of IQ, says this is alarming. She also adds that adults do not need to be shouting or arguing for children to notice and feel uncomfortable. Children can notice even small changes and adults being jittery or not paying attention to them can make children feel unsafe or neglected. It’s the parents’ duty to make sure their children feel safe and to be in a capacity to take care of them at all times.

Another problematic trend observed is that more people are thinking it was okay to invite minors (under 18) of their family to consume alcohol. In 2010, 56% and in 2011 64% of adults felt it was completely wrong to invite minors in their own family to consume alcohol. In 2019, that figure has dropped to 38%. 

Research clearly shows children who consume alcohol at home and initiate use early consume more alcohol later in life and are at risk of alcohol addiction.

As Ms Hagman says, by inviting minors to consume alcohol it sends the wrong message that it was okay to consume alcohol and normalizing a harmful substance.

Other alcohol related attitude-changes among Swedes

The index also found:

  • Women are more restrictive in their alcohol-related attitudes than men. The most alcohol-permissive group contains 34% women and 66% men.
  • In terms of consuming alcohol in the presence of children, also women are more restrictive with 59% thinking it’s completely wrong, compared to 43% men who think the same.
  • The more alcohol a person consumes the more permissive their attitudes towards alcohol become. Among the most permissive 64% consume 3 to 4 units when they consume alcohol, comparative to more restrictive groups who consume 1 to 2 units when they consume alcohol.
  • People over 75 have the most restrictive attitudes towards alcohol while people between 25 to 34 years have the most permissive attitudes towards alcohol.
  • The biggest change is among people 45 to 54-years-old who have become more permissive in the past 10 years.

Over ten years, Swedes’ average alcohol consumption has dropped from 9.5 liters of pure alcohol to 8.8 liters. Karin Hagman says one possible reason for younger Swedes becoming more permissive to alcohol, especially related to children, could be that alcohol harm appears less apparent, as as consumption declines.

The trend of alcohol becoming more permissive among the 45 to 54 age group reflects a global trend of baby boomers consuming more alcohol and experiencing more harm as they age. This generation grew up with a more pervasive alcohol norm than the youth of today who increasingly opt for the alcohol-free way of life.

Parental alcohol norms matter for children’s health, well-being

According to world-class research, less restrictive parental attitudes towards children’s alcohol use are associated with increases in children’s alcohol use onset, alcohol use frequency and intoxication. Children’s perception of less restrictive parental attitudes is associated with children’s alcohol use.

Alcohol use is influenced by a variety of factors, including attitudes and social norms. If the social norm supports parents introducing alcohol to children, children might mistakenly assume that their parents are more lenient, even when this is not the case,” said Professor Stephen Sutton, senior author of the study, as per EurekaAlert.

A comprehensive study found:

  • Less restrictive parental attitudes towards children’s alcohol use were related to higher rates of alcohol use initiation, alcohol use frequency and intoxication among children.
  • Less perceived restrictive parental attitudes were related to higher alcohol use frequency.
  • Perceived parental attitudes were not clearly related to alcohol use initiation.
  • Parent-reported attitudes and perceived parental attitudes were weakly positively correlated.
  • The strength of the relationship between parental attitudes and children’s alcohol use frequency attenuated with children’s age.
  • Study design, sample size, study location and levels of alcohol use frequency did not have a detectable effect on the relationship.

Relationship between Parental Attitudes and Children’s Alcohol Use

The results of another study about parental alcohol use and their children’s risk of depression or anxiety found that in some family settings, even “normal” levels of parental alcohol use might trigger children to develop anxiety and/or depression in adolescence and early adulthood.

This is significant, as the level of alcohol consumption discussed in this study rarely appears to be problematic,” said lead author Ingunn Olea Lund.

Alcohol consumption that doesn’t reach the level of disorder affects far more children and families than alcohol use disorders, according to Linda Richter, of the Center on Addiction in New York City.

Even “Regular” Parental Alcohol Intake Tied To Kids’ Mental Ill-health

We know that parenting practices, which have a very strong influence on a child’s well-being, are definitely affected by alcohol use and mental health problems and these effects can manifest in a number of ways,” Richter, who wasn’t involved in the study, told Reuters via mail.

They can be obvious, like abuse or neglect of the child, or more subtle like modeling unhealthy behaviors for the child or failing to identify and address early signs of risk for childhood anxiety or depression and addressing it accordingly.

Alcohol use and mental health problems in adults and children often go hand in hand, as people tend to ‘self-medicate’ their anxiety or depression with alcohol or other addictive substances, especially if they do not have adequate access to professional help due to limited financial resources or education.”

And a third study, published in 2017, confirms that a high prevalence of parental supply in a region was associated with heavier adolescent alcohol use, regardless of whether adolescents primarily obtained their alcohol from their own parents.

Parental Supply Of Alcohol And Adolescent Alcohol Use

Sources: 

Accent Magazine: “Färre tycker att det är olämpligt att dricka alkohol med barn

Aftonbladet: “Bjud inte din tonåring på alkohol där hemma

*This news story was updated on February 2, 2020 to add the text under the headline “Parental alcohol norms matter for children’s health, well-being”