Monitoring Success: An Examination of Parental Messaging and Acute Problematic Drinking Behaviors in Emerging Adults

Jonathan A. Bliss


Better understanding unhealthy drinking habits is important because alcohol, when not responsibly consumed in moderation, can have negative legal, financial, social, and health consequences. The literature on alcohol use suggests that acute problematic drinking behaviors are high among emerging adults in our country. There are many possible explanations for acute problematic drinking among emerging adults in the United States, with one explanation being parental permissiveness. Studies examining whether zero-tolerance policies or harm-reduction policies are beneficial for parents to adopt regarding the messages they provide emerging adults about drinking result in mixed conclusions. Additionally, studies that examined parental messaging failed to include indirect messages like parental modeling behaviors; thus, there is a gap in knowledge regarding how parental behaviors related to alcohol consumption influence their child’s subsequent drinking behavior. The current study attempts to fill that gap by utilizing survey methodology to explore how parental messages and behaviors are related to emerging adults’ problematic drinking. The sample included 257 United States residents between the ages of 18-23, who were sampled through Amazon’s MTurk. Results indicated that parental messages, both direct and indirect, significantly influenced emerging adult’s problematic drinking behaviors. Permissive messages had better outcomes when the messages were direct, while restrictive messages had better outcomes when the messages were indirect. That is, parents who were not observed to engage in problematic drinking behaviors but provided verbal messages to their children that drinking can be okay or healthy resulted in the lowest rates of problematic drinking behaviors in emerging adults. The results of this study have implications, not only for future research, but also for early intervention policy. Indeed, parents should be taught that their actions are more influential than the verbal messages they are providing their children, and that messages of moderation and healthy drinking should be considered.