The recent study that has been all over the news is concerning for anyone who cares about the effects of parental drunkenness on children well-being.  A study led by Sarah McKetta and Katherine Keys, published by PLOS Medicine in November 2019, compared reported drinking habits of parents from 2006 and 2018.  In just 12 years, the percentage of moms between the ages of 30 and 44 who binged on alcohol increased from 17% to 32%. The study also pointed out that fathers are the only group that has shown a significant decrease in binge drinking.

That doesn’t mean moms drink more than dads.  They don’t. Men in general continue to binge drink at a significantly higher rate than women and for single men, their level of binge drinking is also increasing.  However, the study does seem to reflect a trend that women are starting to pick up some of the bad habits that men have engaged in for years. This is found in other areas of physical and emotional health studies. It seems as traditional barriers based on discrimination against women in the workplace and in society are being eliminated, women are picking up the habit of binge drinking.

Before we get too judgmental about drinking mothers, it’s important to emphasize that they still drink at a lower rate than fathers.  But they are catching up, and alcohol marketing has certainly not missed that trend. Some commenters refer to the “pinking” of alcohol advertisements which now commonly target women in their reproductive years.

While it is certainly a good thing that fathers are binge drinking less, they still binge drink at a disturbing level of 38.5%.  Amongst parents of minor children, 32% of mothers and 38.5% of father’s engage in the very unhealthy habit of binge drinking. This obviously can have harmful effects on parents and their children.  Excessive drinking causes anger control issues, injury, heart disease and most significantly, death. Approximately 10% of all deaths among working adults is caused by alcohol.

The good news is that the study shows that parents of minor children still binge drink at lower rates than their counterparts who don’t have children.  Those of us who are parents can understand this as common sense. While the stress of children might “drive you to drink,” the task of working full-time and raising children certainly gives parents less time to engage in such selfish behavior.  In addition, one would hope that most parents feel the need to be a positive role model for their children and therefore refrain from binge drinking around the children.

In custody cases, accusations of heavy drinking that affect parenting arise pretty regularly.  In light of the facts that over 30% of mothers and fathers binge drink, that should not be surprising.  Courts do take these allegations very seriously although it is important that there be good evidence to prove it.  In these days of iPhones with cameras and voice recorders, some parents have taken to documenting the drunken behavior of their spouse by secretly and sometimes openly recording the drunken behavior of the other spouse.  Also, DUI reports and drunk and disorderly arrests are also commonly used in custody cases.

If the court has serious concerns about a parent whose drinking is out of control, they may require the parent to abstain from alcohol altogether in order to have fully normalized parenting time with their children without supervision or testing.  In order to ensure abstinence, the court often will order random alcohol testing which usually lasts for a period of 6 months.

Other times the court will order that a parent abstain from drinking 24 hours prior to and during their time with the children.  There is a growing market for alcohol testing devices which parents can purchase and in real time, submit to a blood alcohol test that is then immediately sent to the other parent on their phone.  If the test comes back positive, then the visit is terminated.

If you are involved in a custody case that involves allegations of substance abuse, it is important that you have a skilled attorney with the education and experience to handle these types of cases.  I have handled hundreds of cases involving alcohol and other substance abuse allegations and can help you navigate this issue so that the children are safe and also so that parents are not falsely accused of bad behavior that can restrict their time with the children. 

If you or someone you know is experiencing similar challenges or concerns, contact our office using the form below. We’re here to help.

Citation: McKetta, Sarah & Keyes, Katherine. (2019). Heavy and binge alcohol drinking and parenting status in the United States from 2006 to 2018: An analysis of nationally representative cross-sectional surveys. PLOS Medicine. 16. e1002954. 10.1371/journal.pmed.1002954.

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