Parental Influences on Drinking Behaviors and Expectancies of Young Adults

Rebecca R. Hubbard
Saint Augustine’s College

Katurah Jenkins-Hall*
University of South Florida

The first author was supported by a Research Experience for Undergraduates funded by the National Science Foundation, grant #0552428.

This research was conducted at the University of South Florida Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute and was reviewed and approved by the Institutional Review Board of the University of South Florida (July 5, 2007, IRB# 105920G).

Key Words: young adults, alcohol abuse, parental bond, alcohol expectancies, drinking behaviors


Young adult alcohol use has been researched extensively. In this study, 41 students with a mean age of 21.08 years (61% Caucasian, 17.1% African American, 9.8% Latino, 7.3% biracial, and 4.9% Caribbean) from psychology classes completed questionnaires for course credit. They completed several questionnaires and open-ended questions concerning their personal drinking behaviors, their attitudes towards alcohol, their parents’ drinking behaviors, and their perception of their parents’ attitudes towards alcohol. This study found significant relationships between perceived parental alcohol use, perceived parental alcohol expectancies, and the drinking patterns of this college sample.

Adolescent alcohol abuse is a national and global social problem. Heavy drinking over time can cause certain cancers, liver cirrhosis, immune system disorders, and brain damage (Bagnardi, Blangiardo, La Vecchia, & Corrao, 2001; Corrao, Bagnardi, Zambon, & LaVecchia, 2004; Mann, Smart, & Govioni, 2003; Oscar-Berman & Marinkovic, 2003). Adolescent alcohol abuse is also related to the leading cause of death of this group: motor vehicle accidents. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 23% of drivers ages 15 to 20 who died in motor vehicle crashes in 2005 had a Blood Alcohol Concentration of 0.08 g/dl or higher, which is the legal limit in most states. Young adults who are enrolled, as well as young adults who are not enrolled in college, are at high risk for becoming heavy drinkers (Monti, Tevyaw, & Bosari, 2004/2005). Many factors contribute to the alcohol consumption of adolescents and young adults. Understanding the factors influencing drinking behavior can potentially improve intervention techniques for this population. Parenting techniques (Ennett, Bauman, Foshee, Pemberton, & Hicks, 2001), parental alcoholism (Stabenau, 1990), and alcohol expectancies (Brown, Creamer, & Stetson, 1987; Johnson, Nagoshi, Danko, Honbo, & Chau, 1990; Reese, Chassin & Molina, 1994) have been linked to predicting alcoholism and drinking patterns in adulthood. Several authors have found a relationship between alcohol expectancies and patterns of alcohol consumption in teens and young adults (Brown, Goldman, Inn, & Anderson, 1980; Christiansen, Goldman, & Inn, 1982; Christiansen, Smith, Roehling, & Goldman, 1989; Henderson, Goldman, Coovert, & Carnevalla, 1994).

Different cultures display different attitudes towards alcohol use. There is a substantial amount of cross-cultural research that has found differences in adolescent drinking behaviors (Ählstrom & Österberg, 2005; Bloomfield, Greenfield, Kraus, & Augustin, 2002). Awareness of these cultural differences can help us better understand the reasons for adolescent alcohol abuse. Because culture is transferred through parenting, parenting is a highly relevant issue in understanding this problem. An important question is what types of parenting techniques most influence adolescents (ages 12-18) and young adults (ages 18-25).

Certain parenting techniques can be linked to some deviant behaviors of adolescents, including substance abuse. Studies have found support for the assumption that parenting techniques such as “monitoring and support” influence the initiation and drinking levels of their adolescent children (Barnes & Farrell, 1992; Barnes, Reifman, Farrell, & Dintcheff, 2000). Support includes behaviors of the parents such as praising, encouraging, and showing physical affection to communicate to the child that it is loved. Monitoring on the other hand refers to behaviors of the parents that aim to know the whereabouts of the child at any given time. Other investigations have shown that specific actions of parents can influence drinking behaviors (van der Vorst, Engels, Meeus, Deković, & Van Leeuwe, 2005). van der Vorst et al. examined how alcohol-specific socialization processes take place within the family. The authors found that providing alcohol-specific rules had the strongest association with the drinking behaviors of their adolescent children. Authoritative parenting styles have been associated with substance use in adolescents and young adults. Baumrind (1991) found that an authoritative parenting style, where the parents are highly demanding and highly responsive, may have a significant positive impact on the drinking behaviors of their children. She found that this technique was the most successful in preventing adolescent substance abuse. However, casual, recreational use (non-abusive behavior) was not associated with authoritative parenting style; it did not seem to prevent casual use of alcohol.

In addition to parenting styles and techniques, there is also evidence that the relationship that the young adults and adolescents have with their parents can be an important factor in predicting their use of alcohol and other substances. Even though it is a widely accepted public conception that communication with children about alcohol and substance abuse is an effective method for preventing substance abuse by teens (media campaigns etc.), some literature suggests that this is not a significant factor (Ennett, Bauman, Foshee, Pemberton, & Hicks, 2001; van der Vorst, Englels, Meeus, Deković, & Leeuwe, 2005). Ennett et al. found no significant support for the role of parent-child communication as influencing the drinking or smoking behaviors of their children. The authors did find that parents’ actual drinking behaviors and other actions were better predictors of the substance use of their children. However, parent-child communication about alcohol and other substances is only one domain of the parent-child relationship.

There is a large body of literature that has investigated the impact of parental bond on their children’s behavior. The strength of the parent-child bond has been linked to the well-being of adolescents and young adults during every stage of their development (Rice, 1990; van Wel, 2002), but also to problem behaviors (Windle & Miller-Tutzauer, 1992). Windle & Miller-Tutzauer (1992) found a significant relationship between family support factors (support received, support provided, family intimacy) and adolescent reports of alcohol consumption. There is also cross-cultural evidence for this positive association. In a study involving Greek youths, the Parental Bonding Instrument was administered, together with surveys on the drug use of the youths. The author found that parental bonding that was high in maternal and paternal care and high in maternal and paternal protection was associated with the lowest levels of drug use for both sexes (Constantinides, 1992). Studies have also shown that the parent-child relationship intensifies as individuals make the transition into young adulthood (Thornton, Orbuch, & Axinn, 1995; van Wel, 2002). One question relevant to the present study is whether or not this increased bond enhances the degree to which young adults model the behavior of their parents.

Another domain related to parenting that has been researched extensively is alcohol outcome expectancies, which “are expectancies related to the initiation and progression of alcohol use” (Brown, Tate, Vik, Haas, & Aarons, 1999, p. 20). Alcohol expectancies are behaviors and feelings that people associate with alcohol consumption. There is substantial evidence that high positive alcohol expectancies are predictive of adult alcoholism. These expectancies include beliefs that “alcohol can enhance or impede social behavior” or “alcohol produces sexual enhancement” (Christiansen, Goldman, & Brown, 1985). Expectancies are also an indicator of how the adolescent perceives “normal” drinking behaviors of their peers. Scheier & Botvin (1997) found that these perceived peer norms measured with the expectancy scale had a direct effect on the adolescents’ alcohol use. Christiansen et al. (1985) conducted a cross-sectional examination of adolescents, young adults, and alcoholic adults and found evidence that positive expectancies increase as the adolescent develops. All expectancies that became stronger with adolescent years can be found in adult alcoholic counterparts. Expectancies of adolescents and young adults start developing as early as pre-adolescence (11 or 12 years old) ( Meier, Slutske, Arndt, & Cadoret, 2007), long before they initiate drinking. These studies produced evidence that parenting is a key factor in the process of transmitting alcohol beliefs and expectations.

Extensive research has been conducted on the influence of parental alcoholism on their children. Brown et al. (1999) found that a group with a positive family history of alcoholism displayed significantly higher positive alcohol expectancies than their negative family history counterparts. The authors concluded that observational and vicarious learning play an important role in the development of alcohol expectancies and drinking patterns in adolescents. Other studies with children of alcoholics found that the expectancies of adolescents showed an interaction between the presence or absence of an alcoholic parent and the initiation of alcohol use. Drinking and non-drinking children of alcoholics differed significantly in their “low-dose positive expectancies,” meaning children of alcoholics had higher positive alcohol expectancies than the controls (Wiers, Gunning, & Sergeant, 1998).

A review of the literature did not reveal any investigations of young adult perceptions of their parental alcohol use and attitudes. The purpose of this study is to investigate how the dynamics of the parent-child relationship influence alcohol use. We will investigate how perceptions of drinking behaviors of parents impact the drinking behaviors and attitudes of their young adult children. The parent-child bond is also of significant interest to our study. Based on the reviewed literature, we have developed the following hypotheses:

  1. Perceived parental alcohol expectancies will be positively correlated with alcohol expectancies of their young adult offspring.
  2. Perceived parental alcohol use will be positively correlated with alcohol use of young adult offspring.
  3. Young adults, who score high on the parental bonding scale, will use alcohol similar to their parents.
  4. Young adults, who score high on the parental bonding scale, will have similar alcohol expectancies to their parents.


College students, who were enrolled in summer classes of a psychology department in a Southeastern university, were offered extra credit for participating in the present study. Students were eligible to participate if they were 19 years or older. Forty-one students participated and completed the entire survey packet. Of the total sample, 31 of the participants were female (75.6%) and 10 were male (24.4%). The mean age of the sample was 21.08 years (SD= 2.329). Three participants did not report their ages, but were included in the analysis. Responses were received from a relatively representative ethnic sample, including 61% Caucasian, 17.1% African American, 9.8% Latino, 7.3% biracial/multiracial, and 4.9% Caribbean participants (see Table 1).


Table 1
Demographic Results









African American



Latino (of Hispanic







Caribbean (of African












Type of household


Both parents



Single parent (mother)



Single parent (father)






Currently living with parents









Alcohol use severity was measured using the Michigan Alcoholism Screening Test (MAST) (Selzer, 1971). This 25-item questionnaire is a screening that assesses the severity of the alcohol use of an individual. The participants responds “yes” or “no” to items such as “Do you ever feel guilty about your drinking?” “Have you ever lost friends because of your drinking?” and “Are you able to stop drinking when you want to?” The average rate of agreement between the MAST and other measures of alcoholism is 76%, which supports the validity of the measure (Gibbs, 1983). In addition, the measure has good internal consistency, with an average Cronbach’s alpha of .87 (Gibbs, 1983).

Exposure to alcohol was measured using the Adolescent Alcohol Involvement Scale (AAIS) (Mayer & Filstead, 1979). This instrument was developed to measure alcohol use and misuse of adolescents. This 14-item scale includes questions such as “When did you take your first drink?” or “What effects have using alcohol had on your life?” Test-Retest reliability was previously investigated and found to be adequate for experimental groups (r = .91) and control groups (r = .89) (Mayer & Filstead, 1979).

Alcohol related expectancies were measured using the Alcohol Expectancy Questionnaire-Adolescent Form (AEQ-A) (Brown, Goldman, Inn & Anderson, 1980). The questionnaire consists of 90 items with 7 subscales: “ (1) Alcohol is a Powerful Agent that Induces Global, Positive Transformation, (2) Alcohol Can Enhance or Impede Social Behavior, (3) Alcohol Improves One’s Cognitive and Motor Abilities, (4) Alcohol Produces Sexual Enhancement, (5) Alcohol Leads to Deteriorated Cognitive and Behavioral Functions, (6) Alcohol Increases Arousal, (7) Alcohol Promotes Relaxation or Tension Reduction.” The participants respond to the items by checking “true” or “false.” Reliability and internal consistency of this measure has been established (r = .922; coefficient α = .905 ) (Christiansen, Goldman, & Inn, 1982).

In order to measure the perceptions that the young adults had of their parents’ attitude towards alcohol, the AEQ-A was administered again, with different instructions. The participants were asked to fill out the AEQ-A as if they were responding for the person or persons that raised them from ages 8 through 16 (see Appendix). This way, we anticipated the respondents would give us their perceptions of their parents’ or caregivers’ alcohol related expectancies. Cronbach’s alpha for each subscale was calculated to ensure internal consistency despite the modified instructions (see Table 2). All of the subscales were also internally consistent with each other (Cronbach’s α = .871).

Table 2
Internal Consistency of Perceived Parental Alcohol Expectancy Measure


Number of items

Cronbach’s α

Alcohol is a Powerful Agent that makes Global Positive Change



Alcohol Can Enhance or Impede Social Behavior



Alcohol Improves Cognitive and Motor Abilities



Alcohol Enhances Sexuality



Alcohol Leads to Deteriorated Cognitive and Behavioral Function (Negative Expectancy)



Alcohol Increases Arousal



Alcohol Promotes Relaxation or Tension Reduction



Total Positive Expectancy
(between Subscales)



Parental bond was measured with the Parental Bond Scale (PBS) (van Wel, 1994). The 8-item scale aims to determine the youth-parent relationship and how the young adults view their parents as educators and role models. Some items are also concerned with how the young adults perceived their communication with their parents and how much they identify with their parents. Some sample items include: “In the future I want to adopt my parents’ way of living” or “ I count my parents among my best friends.” Participants responded on a Likert-type scale from 1 (entirely disagree) to 5 (entirely agree). Factor analysis of this measure indicated that the 8-item scale had good psychometric properties (Cronbach’s α = .87; Principal Components Analysis: eigenvalue = 4.25; explained variance = 53.1%; all factor loadings > .69; n = 2,670, van Wel, 1994).

Demographic information was also collected. Our demographic variables included gender, age, ethnicity, marital status, country of birth, and religiosity. Religiosity was one item that asked the participant “When you were growing up, how religious was your family?” Responses were made on a 4-point Likert-type scale from 1 (not at all) to 4 (extremely). In addition, we included items concerning the perceived parental alcohol use. Three items from the AAIS were modified so that they asked about parental use. In addition, the participants were asked to respond to the question “How much has using alcohol affected your parents’ life?” on a Likert-type scale from 1 (not at all) to 10 (severe impact).

As a qualitative component of the study, we developed 5 open-ended questions that aimed at finding personal experiences of the respondents with alcohol in their home environment (see Appendix).


The study was introduced in classes in which professors had agreed to allocate course credit for participation in the study. The researcher presented a brief overview of the study. The questionnaires were administered in groups outside of class. The participants completed all of the measures and returned the completed questionnaires to the researcher.

Statistical analyses used to investigate our hypotheses were conducted using the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS). Pearson correlation was used to determine associations between variables. T-tests were used to examine differences in means between groups. We indicate other types of analyses appropriately.



Of the 41 students who completed the questionnaire, 76.5% indicated that they were raised in a household with both parents, and 19.5% reported that they were raised by their mothers. Seventy percent of the students were currently not living with their parents (see Table 1).

Perceived Parental Expectancies

Participants rated their parents perceived positive and negative expectancies. Scores on the negative expectancy scale ranged from 12 to 24 (M = 20.51, SD = 3.29). Scores on the total positive expectancy scale ranged from 5 to 60 (M = 28.17, SD = 15.07).

In order to test hypothesis 1, which stated that perceived parental alcohol expectancies will be positively correlated with alcohol expectancies of the young adults, a total score of positive alcohol expectancies for the young adults was calculated using the total scores of all six of the positive subscales of the AEQ-A. Similarly, a total score of perceived parental positive alcohol expectancies was calculated, using the six subscales in the AEQ-A, which students were asked to fill out “as if they were their parents.” A Pearson correlation was then computed between the two positive alcohol expectancy scores. The scores were significantly positively correlated providing support for this hypothesis (r (41) = .35, p< .05). The individual subscales of the young adults and their perceived parental expectancies were correlated separately. Three of the six subscales were significantly positively correlated: (4) Alcohol Enhances Sexuality (r (41) = .502, p< .01) (6) Alcohol Increases Arousal (r (41) = .391, p< .05), and (7) Alcohol Promotes Relaxation or Tension Reduction (r (41) = .65, p< .01).

A paired samples t-test was performed to assess whether young adults’ alcohol expectancies differed from their perceived parental alcohol expectancies on each of the subscales. Only one subscale had a significant difference between means: (2) Alcohol Can Enhance or Impede Social Behavior (t (40) = 2.166, p< .05). The young adults had a higher mean score for this subscale (M = 8.73, SD = 4.05) than they rated their parents (M = 7.0, SD = 4.14) on the same measure.

Scores for the negative alcohol expectancies of the young adults ranged from 15 to 24 (M = 20.98, SD = 2.53). For their parents, the respondents indicated scores ranging from 12 to 24 (M = 20.51, SD = 3.29). We did not find a significant correlation or a difference in means between the two negative scales.

Perceived Parental Use

The participants evaluated their parents’ alcohol use with the four items in the demographics. Scores ranged from 1 to 23 (M = 10.55, SD = 4.66). To determine if young adults’ alcohol use was associated with their perceived alcohol use of their parents, a correlation matrix was constructed that included perceived parental alcohol use, the MAST and the AAIS. The MAST and the AAIS were positively correlated. (r = .617, p< .01). Perceived parental use and the two young adult use scales did not reach statistical significance. However, the association between the MAST and perceived parental use approaches significance (r (38) = .314, p = .055).

Based on the correlation between the MAST and perceived parental use, a median split was performed for the perceived parental use score to form two groups: one group reflecting higher levels of parental alcohol use (scores of 10 or above) and a second group indicative of lower parental alcohol use (scores below 10). An independent samples t-test was performed to determine if young adults’ MAST scores differed across the higher and lower parental alcohol use groups. A significant mean difference was found (t (36) = -2.56, p< .05). Young adults whose parents were classified in the higher parental alcohol use group reported significantly higher MAST scores (M = 4.75, SD = 5.23) compared to young adults whose parents were classified on the lower alcohol use group (M = 1.39, SD = 2.004).

This relationship was further explored by classifying young adults’ MAST scores into clinical and non-clinical status using the cut-off of five recommended by Selzer (1971). It is recommended that individuals with scores above five be referred for further clinical testing for alcohol addiction. Based on this analysis, 78.9% of the young adults were not classified as problem drinkers. However, more than one in four young adults (21.1%) were classified as having problem drinking and thus in need of further evaluation. A Chi-square analysis was conducted to examine the relationship between young adults’ dichotomous classification on the MAST scores and the classification of perceived parental alcohol use into higher and lower use groups. A significant relationship was found (X 2 (1) = 4.94, p< .05). The Mantel-Haenszel common odds ratio suggests that young adults who rated their parents in the high parental alcohol use group were 9.15 times more likely to have MAST scores falling in the clinical ranges (i.e., scores of five or higher) compared to young adults whose parents were classified in the lower alcohol use group.

Parental Bond and Alcohol Use

In order to test hypothesis 3, which stated that young adults who score high on the parental bonding scale (PBS) would use alcohol similar to their parents, the data were recoded. A median split was performed for the PBS (M = 29.34, SD = 6.00) to form two groups: one group with high parental bonding scores, the other group with low parental bonding scores. In order to determine similarity between the parental alcohol use and the alcohol use of the young adults, the difference between the four items assessing perceived parental use in the demographics and the corresponding equivalent items on the AAIS, one measure of young adult use was calculated. Based on the frequency distribution of these differences, two groups were formed: one group reflecting similar use to their parents (difference range from -5 to 1) and a second group indicating different scores than their parents (young adults with differences lower than -5 and greater than 1).

A Chi-square analysis was then conducted to examine the relationship between the dichotomous classification of the PBS scores and the classification of similar or different scores of alcohol use. The relationship did not reach statistical significance (X 2 (1) = 3.259, p = .071), but shows a trend in the direction of our hypothesis. The Mantel-Haenszel common odds ratio suggests that young adults who had higher scores on the PBS were 3.5 times more likely to use alcohol similar to their parents compared to young adults who had lower scores on the PBS.

Table 3
Chi-Square Analysis of Parental Bond (high and low) and Similar or Not Similar Use of Alcohol to Parents


Recoded Parental Bond (2 Groups)



below median

above median

below median

Recoded Difference

Not similar






% within Recoded Difference (2 Groups -5 to 1= same)





% within Recoded Parental Bond (2 Groups)





% of Total











% within Recoded Difference (2 Groups -5 to 1= same)





% within Recoded Parental Bond (2 Groups)





% of Total










% within Recoded Difference (2 Groups -5 to 1= same)





% within Recoded Parental Bond (2 Groups)





% of Total




Parental Bond and Perceived Parental Expectancies

To determine the relationship between parental bond and similarities of alcohol expectancies, the data were recoded. The two groups that were formed for high and low parental bond were used for this analysis. Positive and negative expectancy scales for young adults and their ratings of their parents were grouped by similarity. A Chi-square analysis was conducted to examine the relationship between the dichotomous classification of the PBS scores and the classification of similar or different scores on the positive and negative alcohol expectancy scale. The relationship did not reach statistical significance for either the positive or the negative expectancy questionnaire.

Qualitative Analysis

In order to gain more insight into the relationship between young adult’s perceptions of parental expectancies and use of alcohol and the impact on their own attitudes and, use, participants responded to several open-ended questions and were asked to rate the religiosity in their home on a scale from 1 to 4.

The responses to the questions showed a variety of interesting themes related to the drinking behaviors of the young adults. An overwhelming 90.2% claim to have received messages about alcohol use from their parents, followed by school, teachers, and school programs (such as Drug Abuse Resistance Education) with 34.2%. Some participants also reported to have received messages about alcohol from church (21.6%). Descriptive statistics were conducted on the religion variable in the demographic questionnaire. The average score for the religiosity item was 2.51 (SD = .87). Religiosity significantly negatively correlated with perceived parental positive expectancies (r = -.459, p< .01), and perceived parental use (r = -.328, p< .05). Other participants reported that they received messages from the media (19.5%) and their peers (7.3%).

The messages that the participants reported were dominated by the notion that drinking responsibly and in moderation is acceptable (73.2%). Many young adults also received the message that alcohol is bad and should be avoided (31.7%).

Another question asked how these messages had influenced the young adults. Forty-one percent claimed to use alcohol in moderation as a result of these messages. In addition, 43.9% claimed that they adhered to those messages and that those messages were helpful. One student said, “I usually just listened to my parents. I’ve never gotten drunk or intoxicated because I was taught the negative effects of it.” Three people (7.32%) claimed that they listened to the messages, and do not drink, but were really curious about drinking alcohol. These statements were very similar to this statement of a participant: “I never tried alcohol, but since I am a college student, I have been very tempted to since everyone else is doing it.” Only three participants (7.32%) claimed that these messages did not influence their choices about drinking.

Our third question was “How was using alcohol viewed in your home?” Once again, moderation was a central theme to the participants who were answering the question. Sixty-three percent stated that alcohol was used in moderation in their home and that it was normal and acceptable to do so. Three participants also reported that alcohol was a form of relaxation for their parents (see Table 4).

Table 4
Alcohol Use at Home




Used in moderation



For relaxation



Alcohol was viewed negatively



Negative towards underage drinking



Not talked about at home



Lastly, we asked our participants if they had seen their parents drunk before. Nearly 37% said “yes,” while the majority (63.4%) answered “no.” Eight of the people who had seen their parents drunk described the experience as being funny. Some comments of participants were: “Yes, the experience was never bad, usually included a lot more laughter and stories. Made them easier to talk to” or “I never saw my mom drunk, but I did see my dad drunk once and it was hilarious. We were on vacation and it was after a nice dinner, and he drank a lot of wine.”


We conducted this study to investigate how the parent-child relationship influences alcohol use of young adults. Learning about the influences of parents can help improve interventions for young adults with alcohol abuse problems and also help us understand moderate use of alcohol and its dynamics. Several studies have investigated families and actual parental drinking behaviors in relation to the drinking behaviors of their children. The present study focused on the perceptions young adults have of their parent’s alcohol use and attitudes (expectancies). The results supported our assumption that perceptions of parents’ alcohol use and perceptions of parental alcohol expectancies influence the drinking behaviors of their young adult children.

Perceived Parental Expectancies and Perceived Parental Use

The results of the statistical analyses support our first hypotheses. The total score for perceived parental positive expectancies was significantly positively correlated with the positive expectancies of the young adults. The negative subscales were not associated. When broken down by subscale, three of the six positive subscales were significantly positively correlated (Alcohol Enhances Sexuality, Alcohol Increases Arousal, and Alcohol Promotes Relaxation or Tension Reduction). Young adults reported having positive alcohol expectancies similar to their parents. This suggests that these expectancies are transferred from parent to child through social learning. One subscale had a significant difference in means: Alcohol Can Enhance or Impede Social Behavior. Young adults rated themselves higher than their parents on this subscale. College students may feel that alcohol is a better social tool than they think their parents do. This can be due to the highly social environment of college life. Because alcohol among college students is used so frequently at social events, college students may feel stronger about it as a social tool. They may not see their parents as having the same social life as they do.

We found support for our supposition that perceived parental alcohol use is positively correlated with the alcohol use of the young adults. Perceived parental alcohol use was associated with the MAST scores of the young adults. Young adults who rated their parents with higher alcohol use were 9.15 times more likely to respond with clinical scores on the MAST (i.e., scores of five or higher). This significant finding supports the concept that perceptions of parental use may be as important in predicting young adults’ alcohol use as the actual alcohol consumption habits of parents.

Interestingly, the higher the young adults perceived the alcohol use of their parents, the lower they rated their household on the religiosity item. The higher they perceived their parents to be on the positive alcohol expectancy scale, the lower they rated their home for religiosity. These findings may provide support that alcohol consumption is viewed as an immoral behavior.
Parental Bond

The statistical analysis of the relationship between parental bond and young adults’ alcohol use in relation to their parents did not produce significant results. However, the values approached significance and showed a trend in the direction of our third hypothesis. Young adults who had higher scores on the PBS were 3.5 times more likely to use alcohol similar to their parents, compared to young adults who had lower scores on the PBS. This suggests that the strength and quality of the parent-child relationship plays an important part in young adults modeling the behaviors of their parents in respect to alcohol use.

Our qualitative analysis provided us with important insight into the dynamics of parent-child interaction and perceptions of alcohol use. Nearly all participants (90.2%) claimed to have received messages of alcohol use from their parents. The messages they received were dominated by themes such as using alcohol responsibly and in moderation (73.2%). Other messages were not to use alcohol at all and that alcohol use is bad (31.7%). The majority of college students (70.7%) also reported that moderate use of alcohol was seen as acceptable in their homes. Most participants did not experience their parents drunk, but the ones that did have this experience (36.5%), often describe this situation as being funny or humorous in some kind of way. We also asked our participants, if the messages they received affected their use of alcohol. Merely 7.32% of the participants did not feel that these messages influenced their choices about drinking alcohol. The qualitative data supports our hypotheses that parental messages sent through behaviors influence the drinking behaviors of young adults substantially.

Our fourth hypothesis, which examined parental bond and the similarity of alcohol related expectancies of young adults and their parents, was not supported. Neither negative, nor positive alcohol expectancies showed a statistical relationship with the scores on the parental bond scale.

Our hypotheses that involved the parental bond did not reach statistical significance. The scale we chose may have weaknesses that affected this outcome. It was a short measure that included questions related to the general relationship with the parents. For follow up studies, we suggest using a parental bond measure with more items and that differentiate between maternal and paternal bond. A better measure of parental bond may have produced significant results, in particular because one of our results approached significance, which suggests that there is a trend that should be explored further. A major limitation of this study was the number of participants. A larger number of participants might also strengthen the support for our hypotheses.

There was a significant positive correlation between the MAST scores and the negative expectancy scale of the young adults. There are several possible explanations for this seemingly inconsistent finding. Negative expectancies may not be a good predictor of alcohol use. Young adults may be well aware of the negative behavioral outcomes alcohol can have, but find that the pleasant outcomes outweigh the knowledge about negative effects when making their choices about drinking.

Implications and Future Research

This study provides support for the importance of young adult’s perceptions of their parents’ drinking behaviors. These findings may be important for parents to understand exactly how they can influence the drinking behaviors of their children. Media campaigns that advertise communication between parents and children about alcohol use may need to explore a new venue. Parents should be made aware that the example they set for their children in regards to drinking may be more important than what they say to their children regarding alcohol consumption. It is important that we continue to explore what factors influence the decisions of young adults when it comes to drinking. Parental behaviors and influences are one way in which adolescents and young adults learn about cultural norms when it comes to drinking behaviors.

In order to explore the root of cultural differences in drinking attitudes and behaviors further, cross-cultural replications of this study should be conducted. Exploring cultural differences of parental behaviors and messages about alcohol, would greatly contribute to our understanding of the role of culture in alcohol use. As mentioned before, parenting is one way that culture is transferred from generation to generation. Questions that remain include “Do young adults in other cultures receive different messages about alcohol?” and “How do youths in other cultures see the drinking behaviors of their parents?” It would also be interesting to conduct a study examining the discrepancy between young adult’s perceptions of the alcohol use of their parents and the actual drinking patterns of the parents. Further research in this area is important so that we can better understand drinking behaviors of young adults and improve intervention techniques.


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Appendix A: AEQ-A with modified instructions
Parental Alcohol Expectancy Scale

Please read the following statements about the effects of alcohol.


Complete this form as if answering for the primary person or persons that raised you from ages 8 through 16. Make sure that these are not your answers, but that they are the responses you think your caregiver or caregivers would provide if they would fill out this survey!

When the statements refer to “drinking alcohol,” you may think in terms of any alcoholic beverage such as beer, wine, whiskey, liquor, rum, scotch, vodka, gin, or various alcoholic mixed drinks. It is important that you respond to every statement.

True False

____ ____ 1. Drinking alcohol makes a person feel good and happy.

____ ____ 2. Alcohol makes sexual experiences easier and more enjoyable.

____ ____ 3. Drinking alcohol can get rid of physical pain.

____ ____ 4. People are apt to break and destroy things when they are drinking alcohol.

____ ____ 5. People become harder to get along with after they have had a few drinks of alcohol.

____ ____ 6. Drinking alcohol creates problems.

____ ____ 7. People feel sexier after a few alcoholic drinks.

____ ____ 8. It is easier to open up and talk about one’s feelings after a few drinks of alcohol.

____ ____ 9. A person can talk with people of the opposite sex better after a few drinks of alcohol.

____ ____ 10. Drinking alcohol makes a bad impression on others.

____ ____ 11. People drive better after a few drinks of alcohol.

____ ____ 12. Drinking alcohol can keep a person’s mind off his/her problems at home.

True False

____ ____ 13. Teenagers drink alcohol in order to get attention.

____ ____ 14. It is hard to reason with a person who has been drinking alcohol.

____ ____ 15. Parties are not as much fun if people are drinking alcohol.

____ ____ 16. People are more creative and imaginative (can make believe better) when they drink alcohol.

____ ____ 17. People feel more caring and giving after a few drinks of alcohol.

____ ____ 18. Drinking alcohol makes it easier to be with others and, in general, makes the world seem to be a nicer place.

____ ____ 19. It is easier to play sports after a few drinks of alcohol.

____ ____ 20. Drinking alcohol makes the future seem brighter.

____ ____ 21. A person can do things better after a few drinks of alcohol.

____ ____ 22. Drinking alcohol makes people more friendly.

____ ____ 23. A person may have a few drinks of alcohol in order to be part of the group.

____ ____ 24. When drinking alcohol, people are more apt to insult and make fun of others.

____ ____ 25. People are more sure of themselves when they are drinking alcohol.

____ ____ 26. When drinking alcohol, people do not feel in control of their behavior; they are apt to do something they do not want to do.

____ ____ 27. Drinking alcohol makes people feel more interesting.

____ ____ 28. Drinking alcohol is O.K. because is allows people to join in with others who are having fun.

____ ____ 29. Drinking alcohol makes a person happier with himself/herself.

____ ____ 30. When talking to people, words come to mind easier after a few drinks of alcohol.

Remember to complete this form as if you were answering for the primary person or persons that raised you from ages 8 through 16.

The complete scale can be obtained from Dr. Mark Goldman (see citation).

Appendix B: Open-ended questions


  1. What messages did you get about alcohol use? Who did these messages come from? (For example, church, parents, school, media)
  2. How did these messages affect your decisions about using alcohol?
  3. How was using alcohol viewed in your home? (clarify by giving a few examples…)
  4. Did you see your parents drink alcohol?
  5. How did that make you feel about alcohol consumption?
  6. Did you ever see your parents drunk? If yes, describe that experience.


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