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Open Access Research article

Paternal and maternal alcohol abuse and offspring mental distress in the general population: the Nord-Trøndelag health study

Kamilla Rognmo1*, Fartein Ask Torvik1, Helga Ask1, Espen Røysamb12 and Kristian Tambs1

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Mental Health, Norwegian Institute of Public Health, PO BOX 4404, Nydalen, N-0403, Oslo, Norway

2 Department of Psychology, University of Oslo, PO BOX 1094, Blinderen, 0317, Oslo, Norway

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BMC Public Health 2012, 12:448  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-448

Published: 18 June 2012



The degree to which parental alcohol abuse is a risk factor for offspring mental distress is unclear, due to conflicting results of previous research. The inconsistencies in previous findings may be related to sample characteristics and lack of control of confounding or moderating factors. One such factor may be the gender of the abusing parent. Also, other factors, such as parental mental health, divorce, adolescent social network, school functioning or self-esteem, may impact the outcome. This study examines the impact of maternal and paternal alcohol abuse on adolescent mental distress, including potentially confounding, mediating or moderating effects of various variables.


Data from the Nord-Trøndelag Health Study (HUNT), a Norwegian population based health survey, from 4012 offspring and their parents were analyzed. Parental alcohol abuse was measured by numerical consumption indicators and CAGE, whereas offspring mental distress was measured by SCL-5, an abbreviated instrument tapping symptoms of anxiety and depression. Statistical method was analysis of variance.


Maternal alcohol abuse was related to offspring mental distress, whereas no effect could be shown of paternal alcohol abuse. Effects of maternal alcohol abuse was partly mediated by parental mental distress, offspring social network and school functioning. However, all effects were relatively small.


The results indicate graver consequences for offspring of alcohol abusing mothers compared to offspring of alcohol abusing fathers. However, small effect sizes suggest that adolescent offspring of alcohol abusing parents in general manage quite well.

Maternal/paternal alcohol abuse; Mental distress; Families; Anxiety/depression; Population study