Alcohol’s Collateral Damage: Childhood Exposure to Problem Drinking and Subsequent Adult Mortality Risk

Richard G. Rogers, University of Colorado, Boulder
Elizabeth Lawrence, University of Colorado, Boulder
Jennifer Karas Montez, Case Western Reserve University

Alcohol consumption is a well-established risk factor for illness, injury, and death among drinkers. But the consequences of alcohol consumption on individuals other than drinkers, termed collateral damage, are poorly understood. We address this gap by drawing on cumulative inequality theory and examining how exposure to problem drinkers in childhood shapes mortality throughout adulthood. We use data from the 1988-2006 National Health Interview Survey-Linked Mortality Files and estimate Cox proportional hazards models. Childhood exposure to problem drinkers is common (nearly 1 in 5 individuals were exposed) and elevates mortality risk throughout the adult life course. The primary intervening mechanism is risky behaviors, such as smoking, drinking, and reckless driving. Salubrious adult circumstances did not ameliorate the consequences of childhood exposure to problem drinking. The findings—which reveal that the influence of problem drinking is far-reaching and can affect all household members—should inform policies to reduce detrimental effects of problem drinking.

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Presented in Session 46: Health Behaviors, Health, and Mortality