Having an authoritarian mother may increase the likelihood that an individual develops alcohol-related problems, according to a new study published in the journal Addictive Behaviors.
Researchers from Yale, Arizona State University and the University of Washington found that higher levels of maternal authoritarianism correlated with higher levels of self-concealment — the act of hiding information that might be negatively perceived by others. Self-concealment was in turn linked to impaired control over ingestion of alcoholic substances.
“There’s a degree of congruence between parenting styles and self-concealment,” said Robert Leeman, Yale psychiatry professor and one of the study’s authors.
Researchers surveyed participants from two Southwestern universities. The survey questionnaire was crafted specifically to obtain self-reported measures of parental authority, self-concealment, control over drinking habits and frequency of alcohol use.
According to Leeman, self-concealment is tied to negative emotional response, which in turn tends to lead to higher incidences of drinking problems. Accordingly, the study observed higher rates of alcohol abuse in participants with higher self-reported rates of self-concealment.
“Authoritarian parents really [cut] off communication with the child, so issues with self-expression [arise],” leading to further problems later in life, Leeman theorized.
But the presence of an authoritative father appears to have the opposite effect. According to the study, authoritative fathers appeared to “serve as a protective factor,” which meant lower levels of self-concealment and fewer alcohol problems amongst their children.
But Yale psychology professor Marvin Chun was quick to point out that the terms “authoritarian” and “authoritative,” while similar sounding, mean different things.
“The authoritarian [parenting] style involves exerting power over a child — kind of trying to bend [the parent’s] will over [the child],” he explained. In essence, it is simply “more extreme” than an authoritative parent’s style.
Authoritative parents are clear about their expectations, but are also loving and caring with their children — the ideal balance, Chun said.
According to Hedy Kober, Yale professor of psychiatry and psychology and director of the clinical and affective neuroscience lab, the link between parenting style and impaired control over substances is not unique to alcohol use.
“In general, authoritative (high warmth, high control) parenting is linked to less drug use,” Kober said in a Wednesday email.
On the opposite side of the spectrum from authoritarianism, permissive parenting styles — what Chun describes as allowing children to “do whatever they feel like doing” — were not definitively linked to increased rates of self-concealment. Similarly, neither the presence of an authoritarian father nor an authoritative mother carried any significant correlation to self-concealment rates, creating a gender imbalance that researchers hope to further investigate.
For now, however, Leeman suggests that potential parents choose their style carefully.
“Parents still have an impact [after high school],” he said. “Sometimes we think that once folks move off to college, mom and dad don’t have an impact. But while the impact may not be as strong, parents still do have an impact.”
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, alcohol abuse costs the U.S. $30 billion in health care costs every year.