Intended for healthcare professionals

Letters Covid-19 and alcohol

Covid-19 and alcohol: parental drinking influences the next generation

BMJ 2020; 369 doi: (Published 25 June 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;369:m2525
  1. Aric Sigman, child health education lecturer
  1. Office 444, Brighton BN1 2NW, UK
  1. aric{at}

Finlay and Gilmore rightly draw attention to two vulnerable groups of drinkers in the covid-19 lockdown.1 In addition, and of central importance, is that regardless of whether parents drink more alcohol in covid-19 lockdown, their children are far more likely to see them drink simply because they are all at home. And this is happening at a time when substantial evidence indicates the intergenerational transmission of alcohol habits and alcohol misuse through parental role modelling.

Children’s beliefs regarding positive or negative effects of alcohol are influenced by watching parental drinking, can develop in a short period of time, and can serve as predictors of their current and future drinking behaviours.23 Parental alcohol use or misuse is associated with subsequent alcohol consumption and misuse in adolescence through adulthood.456 Yet, many studies and discussions of adolescent drinking have failed to include parental drinking even as a confounding variable in the analyses, let alone as a major explanatory factor.7 It’s time that the UK asked itself why such conspicuousness by absence? If we fail to answer this, we will fulfil Finlay and Gilmore’s prophecy of “the toll of increased alcohol harm for a generation.”1

In this culture, taking one’s child to the local pub is often easier than taking them to the local health club, and the legal drinking age at home remains 5 years of age.8 Alcohol charities and lobby groups have preferred to focus on improving resources and treatments for alcohol use disorders but noticeably refrained from drawing attention to prevention beginning in childhood and, in particular, the role of parents in that prevention. To avert next generation alcohol problems, the UK must stand back from the bottle and see the elephant firmly ensconced in the room—parental drinking.

Covid-19 and alcohol might prove to be a dangerous cocktail in more ways than we realise: if monkey see, monkey do.


  • AS is a member of the all party parliamentary group on a fit and healthy childhood.

  • Competing interests: As a health education lecturer, preventing alcohol use disorders in children is one of the many topics I address, and I receive payment for this work.

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