Concern is growing regarding frequent and excessive misuse of alcohol by young people. The average age at which young people in Europe start to drink is twelve and a half, and during the last decade, the quantity of alcohol consumed by younger adolescents in the UK has increased. Families are known to play an important role in shaping young people's alcohol misuse, although family risk and protective factors associated with misuse in a UK context are in need of further investigation.
The study used a cross-sectional design, involving secondary analyses of self-completion questionnaire responses from 6,628 secondary school children (i.e. aged 11-16 years), from 12 schools within an urban location in Wales. Items relating to family functioning and perceived parental attitudes were first subjected to factor analysis. Associations of family closeness and conflict, parental monitoring and attitudes and family history of substance misuse with children's self reported alcohol consumption were examined using logistic regression analyses.
Approximately three quarters of respondents reported having tried alcohol, most of whom had first tried alcohol aged 12 or under. Parental monitoring and family closeness were positively correlated with one another and were both associated with significantly lower levels of drinking behaviours. Family violence and conflict, more liberal parental attitudes towards substance use and towards alcohol and petty crime, and family history of substance misuse were positively correlated with one another and with higher levels of drinking behaviours. Parental monitoring was identified as the family functioning factor most consistently associated with drinking behaviour in multivariate analyses.
Significant relationships were found between young people's drinking behaviours and perceptions of risk and protective factors in the family environment. Parental monitoring was strongly associated with family closeness and appeared to form one part of a parenting style of more general communication and regulation of children's behaviour. Findings support the need for alcohol misuse prevention interventions which address risk and protective factors within the family setting. Timing of such prevention work should be related both to the development of family relationships and the age at which young people begin drinking alcohol.