Parents addicted to alcohol may increase the risk of dating violence among teenagers, according to a study.

“Although teen dating violence is typically viewed as a problem related specifically to adolescent development, our findings indicate that the risk for aggressive behaviour and involvement in dating violence are related to stressors experienced much earlier in life,” said lead author Jennifer A. Livingston, senior research scientist at the University at Buffalo.

For the study, published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, researchers evaluated 144 teenagers who had fathers with an alcohol use disorder and who had been initially recruited for study at 12 months of age.

By analyzing data that was collected regularly over the course of their lifespan, researchers were able to identify factors that led to some of the teenagers to be involved in abusive dating relationships.

“It appears that family dynamics occurring in the preschool years and in middle childhood are critical in the development of aggression and dating violence in the teenage years,” said Livingston.

Mothers living with partners who have alcohol use disorder tended to be more depressed and as a result were less warm and sensitive in their interactions with the children.

“This is significant because children with warm and sensitive mothers are better able to regulate their emotions and behaviour,” Livingston added.

The researcher also said that these conditions can interfere with children’s abilities to control their own behaviour, resulting in higher levels of aggression in early and middle childhood.

“Our findings underscore the critical need for early intervention and prevention with families who are at risk due to alcohol problems. Mothers with alcoholic partners are especially in need of support,” Livingston said.

“Our research suggests the risk for violence can be lessened when parents are able to be more warm and sensitive in their interactions with their children during the toddler years. This, in turn, can reduce marital conflict and increase the children’s self-control and ultimately reduce involvement in aggressive behaviour.”