Impact of becoming a parent on alcohol consumption

Many people believe that during pregnancy and the perinatal period most adults reduce or stop drinking. Initially the transition to parenthood does have an impact in reducing alcohol consumption in women. However, a new study, led by the Centre for Adolescent Health’s Dr Rohan Borschmann, found that this reduction in drinking did not last.

The study, Alcohol and parenthood: An integrative analysis of the effects of transition to parenthood in three Australasian cohorts found women’s drinking levels increased twelve months after their child’s birth and continued to increase as their child grew older. By the time their youngest child was five years old, women’s drinking levels were almost the same as before the pregnancy. However, the birth of a child had little effect on the male’s drinking levels.

 “One of the important messages of our findings is that both men and women need to find different ways to put the brakes on their drinking during this time of life. The reasons why women increase their drinking during the first five years after childbirth need to be explored in future studies,” Dr Borschmann said.

“The traditional combination of marriage, mortgage and kids no longer has any impact on men’s drinking, while making the transition to motherhood only prompts women to have a brief reprieve from drinking.”

Key highlights

  • Females’ alcohol consumption reduced during pregnancy and the first 12 months postpartum.
  • Females’ consumption increased as the age of their youngest child increased, up to five years of age.
  • Little change was observed in males’ drinking with the transition to parenthood.

By managing to reduce drinking for the first twelve months, parents have shown that they can do so in the longer term. It is likely that any reduction in drinking will have positive implications for both the parents and their child. Support from health professionals is important for parents to maintain their reductions in alcohol consumption in the future.

The study used data from three long-term studies in Australia and New Zealand, the Australian Temperament Project, the Victorian Adolescent Health Cohort Study and the Christchurch Health and Development Study. It included over 4000 participants aged between 21-35 years old and recorded recent binge drinking, alcohol abuse and the number of standard drinks consumed, alongside the birthdates of participants’ children. The research aimed to understand what impact, if any, parenthood had on heavy drinking in young adults. 

Borschmann, R., Becker, D., Spry, E., Youssef, G. J., Olsson, C. A., Hutchinson, D. M., … & Patton, G.C. (2019). Alcohol and parenthood: An integrative analysis of the effects of transition to parenthood in three Australasian cohorts. Drug and Alcohol Dependence197, 326-334.

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