More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Acting out: A study looks at the effect of an alcoholic step-parent on kids
August 10, 2004
by Helen Fields

Divorce can bring on psychiatric problems in children, especially behavior problems. As part of a larger study on adolescent development, Virginia Commonwealth University researchers looked at what effect having an alcoholic step-parent has on children.

What the researchers wanted to know: Do children have more behavior problems if they have an alcoholic stepfather than do children with an alcoholic biological father?

What they did: The children in the study were all twins—they were part of a larger study on children's behavioral development. The children were interviewed to find out if they had any disorders, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, conduct disorder, and separation anxiety disorder. Parents were interviewed about the same disorders in the children, and about their own pasts—including alcoholism, depression, and panic disorder, among others.

What they found: Children in families with stepfathers were more likely to have "externalizing symptoms"—more likely to act out, for example, disobedience, and temper tantrums‑than were children in intact families. And having an alcoholic stepfather gave girls a higher risk for conduct disorder symptoms than girls who lived with an alcoholic biological father. Boys, however, were more at risk for conduct disorder symptoms if they lived with an alcoholic biological father.

What it means to you: This is more information about something psychologists already knew‑that children whose parents are divorced are more likely to have psychiatric problems.

Find out more: The Nemours Foundation provides a divorce guide for kids: and for parents: Tips for Divorcing Parents (for Parents) - Nemours KidsHealth.

Read the article: Foley, D.L., et al. "Risks for Conduct Disorder Symptoms Associated With Parental Alcoholism in Stepfather Families Versus Intact Families From a Community Sample." Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, May 2004, Vol. 45, No. 4, pp. 687-696.

Abstract of the Article from the National Library of Medicine
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