A Paternal Look at Alcohol Consumption and Child Development

A Paternal Look at Alcohol Consumption and Child Development

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Warnings line alcohol bottles and packages detouring pregnant women from consuming the beverages. Research over the years has proven that an expecting mother’s consumption of alcohol can negatively affect the unborn child’s brain, spinal cord cells, and more. 1 But few studies have been conducted to reveal the effects of a father’s alcohol consumption and child development until now.

A recent study published in Science Daily examines how fathers’ alcohol consumption before conception could negatively impact child development. 2 Scientists at the University of California, Riverside, set out to establish the relationship between a father’s alcohol consumption before conception and child development. The lab tests revealed alcohol consumed by the father before conception could drastically affect an unborn child’s development.

Results of Alcohol Experimental Research

By studying alcohol consumption in lab rats, the researchers at the University of California, Riverside, were able to conclude fathers who consistently consume high to moderate amounts of alcohol in the weeks before conception have the potential to impact the development of an unborn child negatively. This is due to the offspring being exposed to the paternal germ line.

Associate Professor of Psychology Kelly Huffman led the study. Science Daily quotes the scientist as saying, “Our research shows that fathers’ exposure to alcohol leading up to conception can have deleterious effects on the child’s brain and behavioral development.”

Additionally, in a previous study, Huffman and her team discovered that defects in the father’s germ line might not stop with the single unborn child. It’s entirely possible that the exposure to prenatal alcohol can go on to affect multiple generations adversely. This proves that actions taken by the father before conception are crucial to an unborn child’s development. Huffman’s team plans to extend their research to determine the generational effects of a father drinking before conception.

Alcohol Consumption and Child Development

When the father consistently consumes a moderate to high amount of alcohol before conception, the fetus is more susceptible to:

  • Increased hyperactivity
  • Impaired coordination
  • Impaired short-term motor learning abilities

The study reveals more about the importance of a father’s sobriety and the detrimental effects of prenatal drinking than we ever knew. In America, more than 18 million adults battle Alcohol Use Disorder. 3 While a father’s sobriety before conception is a new phenomenon studied by scientists, the understanding that Alcohol Use Disorder can devastatingly change one’s life is not a new theory.

As adults continue their dependency on alcohol, even beyond the infant’s birth, that behavior plays a vital role in development. Research shows the moderate to heavy drinking of a parent can strongly affect a child even before they turn 12-months-old. 4 Researchers at the University at Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions (RIA) found that fathers who exhibited Alcohol Use Disorder symptoms and were parenting 12-month-old children:

  • Expressed less positive involvement
  • Expressed more negative emotions
  • Reported more aggravation with their infant
  • Spoke less to their infant 5

The study works to show, even after birth, the child continues to be drastically affected by a father’s alcohol intake. While parents may believe infants and toddlers aren’t affected by what “they can’t understand,” science proves this untrue. In the same study, when the children were 18-months-old, living with a father dependent on alcohol, the child:

  • Displayed more externalizing problems, like tantrums
  • Displayed symptoms of anxiety
  • Had more symptoms of depression

End the Cycle and Reach Out for Help

Understanding that your habits can have a lasting effect in such a developmental time in a child’s life should encourage you to seek options beyond dependency. Ocean Hills Recovery understands that no two individuals battling Alcohol Use Disorder share the same challenges. Without professional guidance, counseling, and an advocate for physical wellbeing, you may find alcohol treatment too difficult to endure.

The Ocean Hills Recovery team is not only equipped to handle challenges with alcohol consumption, but our experienced and caring team understands that lasting sobriety is only achieved with a personalized treatment plan. Contact our recovery center today to learn more about our alcohol treatment program. 



[1] https://www.mottchildren.org/health-library/tk3598#:~:text=Alcohol%20can%20pass%20from%20the,alcohol%20effects%20on%20a%20child.

[2] https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/03/200330152119.htm

[3] https://medlineplus.gov/alcoholusedisorderaud.html

[4] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10826-014-9930-7

[5] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/imhj.1007

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About the author:

Nicole earned her doctoral degree in Psychology with an emphasis on marriage and family therapy at California School of Professional Psychology. Her doctoral thesis was a grounded theory study exploring the role of alienation and connectedness in the life course of addiction. She specializes in treating addiction and trauma. She is certified in DBT and EMDR, two of the most highly regarded evidence-based methods in psychotherapy. Dr. Doss is a strong LGBT advocate and provides open and affirming support to her LGBT clients.

Dr. Doss’s earlier education included graduating cum laude from the University of California, Irvine in June of 2007 with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. While there, she received honors recognition by Psi Chi and Golden Key honor societies.

Nicole has been working with alcoholics and addicts in our California drug and alcohol rehab center as an advisor and counselor for many years. She is passionate about providing quality counseling and care to her clients. Her main focus is on integrating the 12 Step and disease models of addiction with experiential therapeutic theory. She is married to Greg; they have two adorable sons together and an energetic yellow Labrador Retriever.