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Family Relationship Quality and Early Alcohol Use: Evidence for Gender-Specific Risk Processes

Adrian B. Kelly, John W. Toumbourou, Martin O'Flaherty, George C. Patton, Ross Homel, Jason P. Connor, Joanne Williams

Objective: Family characteristics (relationship quality, parental behaviors, and attitudes relating to alcohol use) are known to influence alcohol use in the mid-teen years, and there is evidence that family characteristics have different influences on mid-teen girls versus boys. This study examined child gender differences in the association of family relationship quality, parental disapproval of children's alcohol use, and parental alcohol use with early adolescent alcohol use. Method: Grade 6 and 8 students (modal age 11 and 13, respectively; N = 6,837; 52.6% female) were recruited from 231 schools across three Australian states. Hypotheses were tested using two-level ordinal logistic regression (individuals nested within schools). The main dependent measure was lifetime frequency of early adolescent alcohol consumption. Independent variables included mother's/father's alcohol use, closeness, conflict, and disapproval of adolescent alcohol use. Control variables included sensation seeking, peer alcohol use, and socioeconomic disadvantage. Results: The key findings were that for the young age group (Grade 6), emotional closeness to the parent of the opposite sex was protective. Family conflict was associated with females' drinking in both age groups but not males' drinking. Conclusions: There was evidence of gender differences in the epidemiology of family relationship quality and early alcohol use. Social developmental models may need revision to account for these child gender differences. Gender-specific family dynamics may be an important consideration for family-oriented prevention strategy. (J. Stud. Alcohol Drugs, 72, 399407, 2011)