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Development and Psychopathology, 8 (1996), 307-323

Copyright © 1996 Cambridge University Press

Printed in the United States of America

Paternal alcohol use and

the mother-infant relationship


Research Institute on Addictions, Buffalo, New York

The purpose of this study was to examine the association between paternal alcohol use and the mother-
infant relationship. A related goal was to investigate the role of maternal depression and marital satisfaction
in moderating this relationship. Subjects were 55 mother-infant dyads (12-24-month-old infants) who were
observed in the Strange Situation paradigm to assess infant attachment and in structured play interactions.
There were 23 families with heavy drinking fathers and 32 with light drinking fathers. As predicted, infants
of heavy drinking fathers were more likely to be insecurely attached compared to infants of light drinking
fathers. Contrary to expectations, neither maternal depression nor marital interaction mediated the
relationship between paternal alcohol use and mother-infant interactions. However, maternal depression did
interact with paternal alcohol use to predict infant attachment security and maternal sensitivity. There was
also an interactive effect of marital satisfaction and paternal alcohol use on maternal sensitivity. The results
suggest that paternal alcohol use may influence family functioning and the mother-child relationship as early
as infancy and suggest one possible pathway toward maladjustment among infants of heavy drinking
fathers. However, in addition to investigating the impact of paternal alcohol use on the father-infant
relationship, the influence of various familial factors associated with paternal alcohol use need to be more
closely examined from a longitudinal perspective.

Numerous studies of children of alcoholic ment among children of alcoholic fathers

fathers have suggested that they may be at compared to nonalcoholic controls (Jansen,
an increased risk for interpersonal and/or Fitzgerald, Ham, & Zucker, 1995; Noll,
behavioral problems, psychiatric disturb- Zucker, & Greenberg, 1990; Zucker & Fitz-
ances, and substance abuse (Chassin, Ro- gerald, 1991). Further, studies conducted
gosch, & Barrera, 1991; Johnson, Leonard, during later childhood and adolescence
& Jacob, 1989; West & Prinz, 1987). More have demonstrated a relation between pa-
specifically, studies conducted during the ternal alcoholism and conduct problems,
preschool period have reported greater school behavior problems, attentional prob-
knowledge of alcoholic beverages, difficult lems, and impulsivity (see Russell, Hen-
childhood temperament, higher rates of be- derson, & Blume, 1985; West & Prinz, 1987,
havior problems, poorer home environ- reviews). Paternal alcoholism has also been
ment, and lower personal/social develop- linked to increased anxiety and depression
among adult children of alcoholics (Russell
et al., 1985; Sher, 1991). Other studies have
The authors thank the mother-infant dyads who par-
ticipated in this study, Iris McLaughlin for assisting
noted relationships between paternal alco-
in the data collection, and Elizabeth Kucera, Julie holism and the quality of family interac-
Wolf Sakin, and Nancy Heaton for coding videotapes tions, with interactions among spouses and
of mother-infant play and the Strange Situation. This adolescent children of alcoholics character-
study was supported by Biomedical Research Support ized by lower rates of problem solving and
Grant 08503 awarded to the first author.
higher rates of negativity (Jacob & Krahn,
Address correspondence and reprint requests to
Rina Das Eiden, Research Institute on Addictions, 1988; Jacob, Krahn, & Leonard, 1989; Ja-
1021 Main Street, Buffalo, NY 14203. cob & Leonard, 1988).

308 R. D. Eiden and K. E. Leonard

The results of these studies and theoreti- caregivers by the latter half of the first year,
cal formulations on the development of al- Interactions that are sensitive and nurturant
cohol problems have suggested several pos- are likely to result in secure attachment
sible pathways to the development of relationships, whereas insensitive or incon-
alcohol problems. For instance, potential sistent interactions are likely to result in
causal links between behavior problems insecure attachments. These models of rela-
during early childhood, conduct problems, tionships serve to guide the interpretation
and antisocial behavior during later child- and integration of new relationships and in
hood and adolescence, and the development this way provide a developmental context
of alcohol problems in adulthood have been for later adjustment or maladjustment
discussed by several researchers (Tarter, Al- (Sroufe & Fleeson, 1986; Sroufe, 1988). In-
terman,& Edwards, 1985; Cloninger, 1987; deed, there is accumulating evidence that
Sher, 1987; Zucker, 1987; Zucker & Fitzger- given environmental consistency, infants
aid, 1991). Further, parental alcohol use, with insecure attachments to their mothers
associated psychosocial comorbidities, and are at greater risk for poor peer relation-
contextual factors have also been implicated ships and behavior problems through the
as causal mechanisms (see Zucker & Gom- early school years compared to secure in-
berg, 1986; Zucker & Fitzgerald, 1991). fants (e.g., Erickson, Sroufe, & Egeland,
With a few exceptions (Jansen et al., 1985; Fagot &Kavanah, 1990; Sroufe, Ege-
1995; Noll et al., 1990; Zucker & Fitzgerald, land, & Kreutzer, 1990).
1991), most studies on the impact of pater- Both mother-infant interactions and in-
nal alcohol use and associated familial vari- fant attachment are influenced by various
ables have been primarily focused on ado- parental and contextual factors. Among
lescence, mainly because of the emergence these multiple influences, maternal depres-
of substance use problems during that de- sion and marital satisfaction are thought to
velopmental period. However, many of the be two crucial predictors of the quality of
psychosocial problems related to paternal mother-infant relationships (Belsky, 1981,
heavy drinking may already be well estab- 1984; Field, 1992). Studies have demon-
lished by adolescence. To date, the potential strated that depressed mothers have lower
impact of paternal heavy drinking on family levels of involvement with their children,
processes during infancy has not been exam- are likely to be more dissatisfied in the
ined. An increased knowledge of the links maternal role, and less emotionally and
between fathers' heavy drinking and family verbally responsive toward their infants
interactions during earlier developmental (Campbell, Cohn, Flanagan, Popper, &
periods would serve as a first step in under- Meyers, 1992; Dawson, Grofer, Klinger,
standing the processes related to psychoso- Panagiotides, Spieker, & Frey, 1992; Field,
cial adjustment or maladjustment among 1992; Field, Healy, Goldstein, & Guthertz,
children of alcoholics. 1990). These maternal self-report and ob-
One psychosocial outcome of primary servational variables are associated with
importance during infancy is the develop- negative consequences for infants of de-
ment of a secure attachment relationship pressed mothers. These infants interact
with a primary caregiver, who is usually the more negatively with their mothers, as well
mother. It has been postulated that human as with strangers, as early as 3 months of
infants are biologically preadapted to form age compared to infants of nondepressed
attachments to those individuals who care mothers (Field, 1984, 1992). This negative
for and interact with them (Ainsworth, or depressed style of interaction has been
Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978; Bowlby, found to persist through the first year of life
1982; Bretherton, 1985). According to at- if maternal depression continues (Radke-
tachment theory, infants form cognitive/ Yarrow, • Cummings, Kuczynski, & Chap-
affective models of relationships on the ba- man, 1985; Zahn-Waxier, Cummings,
sis of repeated interactions with significant McKnew, & Radke-Yarrow, 1984) and has
Paternal alcohol use and infancy 309

been associated with problem behaviors in sumption. Thus, paternal heavy drinking
the later developmental periods (Orvaschel, may lead to increased maternal depression.
Weissman, &Kidd,'198O; Patterson, 1980). In a similar vein, a number of studies
Similarly, it has been proposed that the have reported lower levels of marital func-
marital relationship may be a powerful tioning (e.g., lower marital satisfaction,
source of emotional and practical support higher hostility, higher negativity) to be as-
for the mother and thus have an impact sociated with heavier alcohol consumption
on maternal sensitivity toward the infant (Billings, Kessler, Gomberg, & Weiner, 1979;
(Belsky, 1981). Empirical studies have dem- Coleman & Straus, 1983; Jacob & Krahn,
onstrated that marital support is related to 1988; Jacob & Leonard, 1988; Zweben,
the quality of mother-infant interactions 1986). For instance, Zweben (1986) found
(Feiring, Fox, Jaskir, & Lewis, 1987). that women with heavy drinking partners
Mothers who felt supported by their part- reported lower marital satisfaction, particu-
ners had more positive interactions with larly when their partners' drinking was asso-
their infants. On the other hand, mothers ciated with other behavioral problems such
who felt criticized by their partners had as aggression or withdrawal. Other studies
lower positive affect during interactions of marital interactions of alcoholic, de-
with their infants. In addition, several stud- pressed, and nonalcoholic men have re-
ies have demonstrated a link between some ported that alcoholic couples were more
aspect of the marital relationship and infant critical and disagreeable when they con-
attachment (Belsky & Isabella, 1988; Ege- sumed alcoholic beverages compared to the
land & Farber, 1984; Goldberg & Easter- other two groups (Jacob & Krahn, 1988).
brooks, 1984). Thus, both maternal depres- Taken together, these studies indicate that
sion and marital satisfaction play a crucial women with heavy drinking partners are
role in the quality of the mother-infant likely to have lower levels of marital satis-
interactions and patterns of infant attach- faction compared to women with light
ment. drinking partners. Thus, apart from pater-
In addition to their theoretical and em- nal alcohol use per se, maternal depression
pirically supported links with parenting and and marital satisfaction may influence fam-
infant outcomes, maternal depression and ily interactions and child adjustment indi-
lower marital satisfaction have also been vidually or in interaction with each other,
consistently associated with heavy paternal The purpose of this study was to explore
alcohol use. Wives of alcoholics report the impact of paternal alcohol use on
higher depressive symptoms and lower mar- mother-infant interactions and infant at-
ital satisfaction compared to wives of nonal- tachment. A related goal was to investigate
coholics (Coleman & Straus, 1983; Moos, the role of maternal depression and marital
Finney, & Cronkite, 1990; Zucker, 1987; satisfaction in mediating and/or moderat-
Zweben, 1986). Although early clinical de- ing this relationship. It was expected that
scriptions suggested that the "disturbed per- infants of heavy drinking fathers would dis-
sonalities" of wives sustained their hus- play a higher proportion of insecure attach-
bands' alcohol problems, more recent ment patterns compared to infants of light
studies have argued that psychological dis- drinking fathers. Further, it was hypothe-
turbance among wives results from the sized that mother-infant interactions among
stresses associated with an alcoholic partner families with heavy drinking fathers would
(Jacob & Seilhamer, 1982; Sher, 1991; re- be less optimal compared to that in light
views). For example, in a longitudinal study drinking families. Both maternal depression
of alcoholic and nonalcoholic families, and marital satisfaction were expected to
Moos et al. (1990) reported that after con- mediate and/or moderate the association
trolling for their initial psychological func- between paternal alcohol use and the
tioning, women's depression was positively mother-infant relationship. More specifi-
associated with their partners' alcohol con- cally, it was expected that paternal alcohol
310 R.D. Eiden and K. E. Leonard

use may influence the mother-infant rela- because of heavy maternal drinking, and
tionship through its impact on maternal the rest were excluded from the control
depression and/or marital satisfaction. Fur- group in order to match the groups with
ther, it was hypothesized that paternal alco- respect to income. The final sample in-
hol use may interact with maternal depres- eluded light/moderate drinking mothers
sion and marital satisfaction to predict the (average daily alcohol intake of less than 1
quality of the mother-infant relationship, oz of ethanol) with infants between the ages
Mothers with light drinking partners and of 12 to 24 months. The fathers were consid-
high marital satisfaction or low maternal ered to be heavy drinkers if they had an
depression were expected to have the most average daily ethanol intake of 1 oz or
positive interactions with their infants, and higher (60 or more drinks per month), or
their infants were expected to display higher if they were reported to have alcohol prob-
proportions of secure attachment. On the lems.Ofthe55 mothers, 51 were Caucasian,
other hand, mothers with heavy drinking and 4 were African American. Although
partners and low marital satisfaction or maternal education ranged from less than
higher depression were expected to have high school to graduate education, the ma-
the most negative interactions with their jority of the mothers (63%) were either
infants, and their infants were expected to college graduates or had received some
display higher proportions of insecure at- college education. Annual family income
tachment. ranged from less than $5,000 to S35.OOO or
over (M = 535,000 and above). All of the
M mothers were cohabiting with the father of
the infant in the study. Nearly all of the
p .. mothers (94%) were married for the first
time, 4% were married for the second time,
The participants were 55 mother-infant dy- and one mother was unmarried and living
ads who had volunteered for a study of with a partner. Maternal ages ranged from
family influences on infant development, 21 to 38 years (A/ = 30).
with 23 in the heavy drinking group and 32
in the light drinking group. The families „ ,
. .r j . « Procedure
were recruited from newspaper advertise-
ments (74%) and from a list of names pro- Mothers were screened over the telephone
vided by the OBGYN department of a local on the study criteria and paternal drinking,
area hospital (26%). The newspaper adver- Eligibility criteria were as follows: infants
tisements were placed in various local news- ranging in age from 12 to 24 months with
papers over a period of 3 months and asked no disabilities or major medical problems;
mothers with infants between the ages of both parents living together; light to moder-
12 and 24 months to call the Research Insti- ate maternal alcohol consumption in the
tute for a study of infant development. Of past 6 months; and no drug use by either
the mothers responding to the advertise- parent. The mothers in the heavy and light
ments (n = 155), 41 (26%) were eligible drinking groups were matched on family
and agreed to participate in the study. A income. If the families met all the study
total of 200 letters were mailed to mothers criteria, they were scheduled to visit the
who had given birth at a local area hospital laboratory in 2 weeks time. Mothers were
and had infants between 12 and 24 months mailed a set of questionnaires to be com-
of age. 55 mothers responded to these letters pleted during the 2 weeks prior to the lab
(28%), and 14 (25%) were eligible for the visit. These materials included the Marital
study. Of the mothers who were excluded Adjustment Test (Locke & Wallace, 1959)
from the study, most were ineligible for the and the Center for Epidemiological Studies
heavy drinking group because the fathers Depression Inventory (CES-D, Radloff,
did not drink enough, four were excluded 1977). During the lab visit, mothers were
Paternal alcohol use and infancy 311

videotaped in the Strange Situation para- drinks on 3 days each week or 4 drinks on
digm followed by a 10-min structured play 4 days each week. In this study, of the 23
interaction with a brief rest period in be- families in the heavy drinking group, 21
tween the two assessments (about 5 min). fathers had an average daily ethanol intake
All of the mothers received a monetary in- of more than 1 oz, and 15 had been classi-
centive for participation. fied as having alcohol problems according
to the FH-RDC. Two fathers in the heavy
drinking group had alcohol-related prob-
Measures \tms o v e r t n e past year, but were not re-
ported to have consumed more than 60
Paternal alcohol use. Mothers were asked drinks per month over the last 6 months (see
to complete a quantity-frequency measure Table 1 for group differences in parental
of alcohol use adapted from Cahalan, alcohol use and demographics).
Cisin, and Crossley (1969), with regard to
their own and their partner's drinking over Maternal depression and marital satisfac-
the past 6 months. The responses to these tion. The CES-D is a widely used, 20-item
questions yielded information about the av- measure of depression for use with general
erage daily ethanol intake for both parents, population samples. This assessment has
In addition, mothers were asked to com- been reported to have high internal consis-
plete the Family History Research Diagnos- tency (Radloff, 1977), strong test-retest
tic Criteria (FH-RDC, Andreason, Endi- reliability, and adequate validity (Boyd,
cott, Spitzer, &Winokur, 1977; Andreason, Weissman, Thompson, & Myers, 1982; En-
Rice, Endicott, Reich, & Coryell, 1986) with sel, 1982). For this sample, maternal scores
regard to themselves and their partners, on the CES-D ranged from 0 to 48 (M =
This measure consists of a set of questions 8.4, SD = 8.38). The Marital Adjustment
about alcohol-related problems that are de- Test (Locke & Wallace, 1959) is a widely
signed specifically for obtaining informa- used measure of marital satisfaction. It has
tipn about family members. Families were been found to discriminate distressed from
classified in the heavy drinking group if the nondistressed marriages in numerous stud-
fathers' average daily ethanol intake was ies and has well-established concurrent and
greater than one ounce (60 drinks or more predictive validities (O'Leary & Turkewitz,
per month, Clark &Midanik, 1982; Hilton, 1978). The scores on marital adjustment
1991) or if they indicated that the father for the entire sample ranged from 31 to 136
had a problem with drinking over the past (M = 103.62, SD = 26.81).
year on the FH-RDC. Families were classi-
fiedin the light drinkinggroup if thciraver- altachment
age daily ethanol intake was less than one
ounce and if they had no alcohol related The Ainsworth Strange Situation (Ains-
problems in the past year. A cutoff of worth&\Vittig, 1969), a21-minvideotaped,
greater than 1 oz (average of 60 drinks/ structured laboratory separation-reunion
month or 2 drinks/day) is commonly used procedure was used to examine mother-
to signify heavy drinking (see Clark & Mi- infant attachment. The procedure consists
danik, 1982; Hilton, 1991). Approximately of eight 3-min episodes that occur in a fixed
13% of the general population of males order and are designed to induce increasing
have been classified as heavy drinking in levels of stress in the infant so as to activate
general population surveys, using this cut- the attachment system. In each episode, the
off (Clark & Midanik, 1982). Although an infant's behavior is rated along six dimen-
average daily alcohol intake of 2 drinks may sions using seven-point scales. The ratings
sound light, few people consume alcohol in are used to classify the infants into three
this pattern. Instead, most drinkers receive major categories of secure, insecure-avoid-
this average by consuming, for instance, 5 ant, and insecure-resistant. In addition to
312 R. D. Eiden andK. E. Leonard

Table 1. Group differences in demographic and drinking variables

Heavy Light
Variables Drinking Drinking Sig

Family income 7.13 ± 3.58 7.00 ± 2.53 0.02 n.s.

Paternal occupation 4.30 ± 2.69 4.71 =fc 2.52 0.31 n.s.
Maternal occupation 4.29 ± 2.75 3.86 ± 3.06 0.28 n.s.
Maternal age 30.22 ± 3.86 29.03 ± 4.40 1.07 n.s.
Parity 2.35 ± 1.30 1.84 ± 1.11 2.39 n.s.
Prenatal complications 0.05 ± 0.21 0.03 ± 0.18 0.07 n.s.
Child age 17.17 ± 4.94 16.69 ± 3.35 0.19 n.s.
Paternal drinking (oz/day) 2.59 ± 1.88 0.22 ± 0.22 50.24 0.00
Maternal drinking, during pregnancy 0.04 ± 0.08 0.01 ± 0.02 5,90 0.02
Maternal drinking, before pregnancy 0.58 ± 0.78 0.29 ± 0.50 2.73 n.s.
Maternal drinking (current) 0.11 ± 0.13 0.09 ± 0.12 0.38 n.s.

Note: Values are mean ± SD. Family income of 7 or above = $35,000 or above. Parental occu-
pation codes are calculated according to Hollingshcad (1975) four-factor index of social status.
Parental drinking is expressed in terms of number of ounces of average daily ethanol consump-

the secure and the two insecure categories, domly and included all four classifications,
the coding scheme has been extended to The mean interrater reliability using Pear-
include an additional pattern that is espe- son's r was .89 on the Strange Situation
dally prevalent within high-risk infants, the rating scales and .96 for the Disorganization
disorganized (D) pattern (Main & Solomon, scale score. Interrater agreement on the four
1990). The D behaviors represent a variety attachment classifications was 98%. When
of different responses to conflict regarding the insecure groups were combined, inter-
access to the attachment figure in times of rater reliability on the secure/insecure dis-
stress. Thus, unlike the three major classifi- tinction was 100%. Because of the limited
cations, the D classification does not repre- sample size, the secure/insecure distinction
sent an organized strategy for maintaining was used in all further analyses,
access to the attachment figure. Conse-
quently, whenever an infant is classified
as disorganized, an alternative, best-fitting Mother-infant play interaction
classification of secure, avoidant, or resis- Mother-infant interaction was assessed in
tant is assigned as well. a 10-min structured play situation involving
Two graduate students, who had no affil- three different sets of toys. Separate sets of
iation with this study and were not aware of age-appropriate toys were used for the 12-
the mother-infant play interaction ratings, 17-month-olds and for the 18-24-month-
coded the Strange Situations. The students olds. For the younger age group, the three
had been trained in coding Strange Sit- tasks consisted of a set of blocks, a peek-a-
uations using the Ainsworth's tripartite boo stacker, and a nail and hammer bench,
scheme and the D classification by Douglas For the older age group, the toys included
Teti. Additional training on the patterns of a shape sorter, three sets of two-three-piece
disorganization was obtained from Dante puzzles, and a Mr. Potato Head toy. The
Cicchetti. The guidelines for attachment mothers were told to play with each set of
classifications beyond infancy developed by toys for about 3 min and were signaled at
Schneider-Rosen (1990) were used when- the end of each 3-min period. At the end
ever applicable (i.e., infant ages of 18-24 of the play session, they were asked to elicit
months). Interrater reliability was estab- their infants' help in putting the toys away
lished on 15% of the sample. Individual into a box. The transition from one set
dyads used for reliability were selected ran- of toys to another and the clean-up task
Paternal alcohol use and infancy 313

allowed for a rating of infant compliance, ior ratings (a = .80) and the five infant
The videotaping began immediately after behavior ratings (a = .70). Interrater relia-
instructions were given and then proceeded bility on the two scales was quite adequate
without interruption for 10 min. (maternal sensitivity: Pearson r = .91, in-
The observations of maternal and infant fant responsiveness: Pearson r = .93).
behavior during these interactions were These two scales were used in all subsequent
coded using a collection of five-point rating analyses of mother-infant play interaction,
scales adapted from the Parent-Child Early
Relational Assessment (PCERA) by Clark, _
Musick, Scott, and Klehr (1980). Global
ratings of maternal behavior were made on .. .. , ,.-, ,
.. .. . r -I- , ,.- rr * Demographics, gender differences, and
the dimensions of positive/negative affect, -f t
in an
structuring/mediating, flexibility, and sen- J S
sitivity. The infant behaviors were coded Analyses of variance were used to examine
along dimensions of infant responsivity, ini- group differences on variables like family
tiations, positive affect, attentional abili- income, parental occupation, maternal age,
ties, and compliance. These rating scales parity, prenatal complications, and child
have been found to be applicable for chil- age. As indicated in Table 1, no group dif-
dren ranging in age from 2 months to 5 ferences were obtained on any of these de-
years (Clark, Musick, Scott, Klehr, & mographic variables.
Cohler, 1984). Clark (1986) found these Although the groups did not differ with
scales to differentiate between psychiatri- respect to demographic variables, the two
cally ill and well mothers in terms of affec- groups did differ on paternal drinking as
tive involvement, responsivity, and predict- would be expected. In addition, mothers in
ability in interactions with their children, the heavy drinking group drank signifi-
with psychiatrically ill mothers receiving cantly higher amounts of alcohol during
lower ratings on all of these scales. Addi- pregnancy compared to those in the light
tionally, Teti, Nakagawa, Das, and Wirth drinking group. However, as the means in-
(1991) found significant positive associa- dicate (see Table 1), both these groups of
tions between these scales and security of mothers were extremely light drinkers. Cor-
attachment among both infants (using the relational analyses were used to examine
Strange Situation) and preschoolers (using the relationship between these demographic
the Attachment Q Sort, Waters & Deane, variables, maternal sensitivity, infant re-
1985). Further, Eiden, Teti, and Corns (in sponsiveness, and infant attachment. None
press) found these scales to be associated in of the demographic variables was associated
theoretically predictable ways to maternal with the quality of mother-infant play inter-
working models of attachment as assessed actions or with attachment security,
by the Adult Attachment Interview. Possible gender differences on all study
Two female graduate students, blind to variables including demographics were ex-
all other data on the families, coded both amined using analysis of variance. Gender
maternal and infant behavior. Interrater re- differences were observed on only two van-
liability (Pearson Product-Moment corre- ables, maternal drinking before pregnancy
lations) on each of the maternal behavior and child responsiveness during play inter-
ratings ranged from r = .81 to r = .97, actions. Mothers of boys drank less before
and on each of the infant behavior ratings pregnancy compared to mothers of girls,
fromr = .71 tor = .92. Given themoder- F(\, 53) = 4.32, p < .05 (average daily
ate sample size in relation to the number of ethanol consumption: M = .25 and .60,
maternal and infant behavior variables, two respectively). Girls were more responsive
composite scales were created, maternal towards their mothers during play interac-
sensitivity and infant responsiveness, by tion compared to boys, F(l, 52) = 4.06, p
taking the mean of the five maternal behav- < .05 (A/ = 3.48 and 3.14, respectively).
314 R.D. Eiden and K. E. Leonard

Table 2. Correlations among maternal functioning, play interaction,

and infant attachment
Maternal Marital Maternal Infant
Depression Satisfaction Sensitivity Responsive

Marital satisfaction -.51**

Maternal sensitivity -.18 .12
Infant responsiveness .09 -.01 .51**
Infant attachment -.14 .08 .00 .24

Note: Infant attachment is coded as follows: 1 = insecure; 2 = secure. Partial correla-

tions controlling for infant age and gender yielded virtually identical values.
**p< .01.

No gender differences were obtained on any yielded a significant relationship between

ofthe other study variables. Further, gender maternal sensitivity and infant responsive-
did not interact with paternal alcohol use, ness with higher maternal sensitivity associ-
maternal depression, or marital satisfaction ated with higher infant responsiveness,
to predict the quality of play interactions
of infant attachment. n . . . . . ,. . s
A . 4. , 4 - e . J n Paternal alcohol use and infant
Associations between infant age and all .. .
•u * J • ui • J attachment
the study variables were examined using
correlations. Infant age was positively cor- One family in the light drinking group did
related with infant responsiveness indicat- not complete the lab procedures. Of the 54
ing that older infants were more responsive families who did complete these procedures,
toward their mothers during play interac- 28 infants (51%) were classified as secure,
tions compared to younger infants (r = Of the remaining 27 infants, 18 infants
.31, p < .05). There were no significant (33%) were classified as avoidant, 4 infants
relationships between infant age and the (7%) were classified as resistant, and 5 in-
other variables including infant attachment, fants (9%) were classified as disorganized
However, because of the wide age range of (the alternative classifications were secure:
the infants in the study and the relationship n = 1, and avoidant-ambivalent, forced
between infant gender and infant respon- classified as avoidant, n = 4). When Ains-
siveness as well as maternal drinking before worth's three-group classification system
pregnancy, infant age and gender were used was used, 29 infants (53%) were classified
as covariates in all further analyses. as secure, 22 infants (40%) were classified
as avoidant, and 4 infants (7%) were classi-
n . . . . . . . . fied as resistant.
Relationships among maternal , . , ,
r .. . . . . .. ,. r . Logistic regression analyses were used to
functioning, play interaction, and infant • »u i *• u« u . . i
.. , : examine the relationship between paternal
attachment i u i / i. t- *. * J • r
alcohol use (group: heavy, light) and infant
To examine the relationships among mater- attachment (secure, insecure), with paternal
nal functioning, mother-infant play inter- alcohol use as the predictor and infant at-
action ratings, and infant attachment (se- tachment as the criterion variable. To con-
cure/insecure), correlations and partial trol for infant age and gender, these two
correlations controlling for infant age and variables were entered first, followed by
gender were computed (see Table 2). Mater- paternal alcohol use (heavy vs. light). Con-
nal depression was significantly correlated trary to expectations, paternal alcohol use
with marital satisfaction such that mothers was not a significant predictor of the secu-
who were more depressed reported lower rity of infant attachment. However, when
marital satisfaction. These correlations also the two drinking groups were divided on
Paternal alcohol use and infancy 315

the basis of fathers' current drinking (daily ing partners also reported lower marital sat-
average ethanol of 1 oz. or more), such that isfaction compared to those in the light
the two fathers who had alcohol-related drinking group. When infant responsive-
problems in the past year but were reported ness was used as the dependent variable, the
to consume low amounts of alcohol in the effect of paternal alcohol use approached
past 6 months were considered to be light significance (p < .10). No group differ-
drinking, paternal alcohol use was a signifi- ences were obtained on maternal sensitivity.
cant predictor of group status, Improve-
ment ,x2(l, 50) = 3.85, p < .05. Of the
infants whose fathers were reported to con- Moderating effects for infant attachment
sume low amounts of alcohol in the past 6
months, 62% were classified as secure. In The interactive effect of paternal alcohol
contrast, only 33% of infants whose fathers use and maternal depression on infant at-
drank heavier amounts of alcohol in the tachment was examined first by using logis-
past 6 months were classified as secure, with tic regression analysis. Infant age and gen-
the remaining 67% classified as insecure.1 der were entered first, followed by paternal
To examine whether current paternal al- alcohol use (light/heavy), maternal depres-
cohol use would remain associated with in- sion, and the interaction term. Results indi-
fant attachment after controlling for mater- cated a significant two-way interaction ef-
nal depression and marital satisfaction, the fect of paternal alcohol use and maternal
two maternal report variables were entered depression, x2(l, 48) = 7.63, p = .01. As
first followed by father's current drinking expected, mothers with heavy drinking part-
status. Although neither maternal depres- ners and higher scores on depression were
sion nor marital satisfaction were associated more likely to have infants who were classi-
with infant attachment, they attenuated the fied as insecure compared to mothers with
relationship between paternal alcohol use light drinking partners and those with lower
and infant attachment (Improvement x 2 (l, levels of depression (see Figure 1). How-
47) = 2.25, p < .13. ever, maternal depression did lower the like-
lihood of infant security even among light
drinking families. The interactive effects of
paternal alcohol use and marital satisfac-
Paternal alcohol use, maternal tion were examined next. As in the previous
functioning, and play interaction ratings analysis, infant age and gender were entered
first, followed by paternal alcohol use and
Analyses of covariance were used to exam-
marital satisfaction, with the interaction
ine differences between the heavy and light
term entered last. This analysis yielded no
drinking groups on maternal depression,
significant interaction effects of paternal
marital satisfaction, maternal sensitivity,
alcohol use and marital satisfaction on in-
and infant responsiveness (see Table 3).
fant attachment.
These analyses yielded a significant associa-
tion between father's alcohol use and mater-
nal depression, such that women with heavy Moderating effects for play interaction
drinking partners reported more depression
compared to those with light drinking part- Separate hierarchical regression analysis
ners. In addition, women With heavy drink- was also used to examine the moderating
effects of maternal depression and marital
satisfaction on mother-infant play interac-
1. Among the infants of heavy drinking fathers, 48 7b tion ratings (see Table 4). The order of entry
were classified as avoidant, 5% as resistant, and
was identical to that for infant attachment.
MTo as disorganized. In contrast, among the infants
of light drinking fathers, 23^o were classified as When maternal sensitivity was used as the
avoidant, 9To were classified resistant, and 8% were dependent variable, there was a significant
classified as disorganized. interaction effect for paternal alcohol use
316 R. D. Eiden and K. E. Leonard

Table 3. Group differences in maternal functioning and play

interaction ratings
Variables Drinking Light Drinking F Sig

Maternal depression 0.37 ± 0.99 -0.27 ± 0.93 5.80 0.02

Marital satisfaction 90.81 ± 29.36 111.72 ± 21.63 9.09 0.01
Maternal sensitivity 3.90 ± 0.54 4.06 ± 0.71 0.88 n.s.
Infant responsiveness 3.13 ± 0.61 3.42 ± 0.61 3.28 0.08

Note: Values are mean ± SD. Maternal depression scores were transformed using
square roots and converted into Z scores because of skewness.



I 0.60-

I 0.40-

Light Drinking Group
Heavy Drinking Group
Low High

Maternal Depression

Figure 1. The effect of paternal alcohol use and maternal depression on infant attach-
ment (secure/insecure). Results of entering low and high variables for maternal depres-
sion and dummy group values for light and heavy drinking into logistic regression
equation. High scores reflect a higher probability of secure attachment.

and maternal depression {p < .01) as well ness was used as the criterion variable, none
as for paternal alcohol use and marital satis- of the interactions were significant.
faction^ < .01). Neither maternal depres-
sion nor marital satisfaction seemed to have
an impact on maternal sensitivity among
mothers with drinking partners. However, According to attachment theory (Ains-
among those with light drinking partners, worth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978;
those with lower depression and those with Bowlby, 1982), disturbance in the care-
higher marital satisfaction were the most giver-infant relationship may provide a de-
sensitive in their interactions with their in- velopmental context that facilitates the
fants. Obtaining higher scores on depres- emergence of later maladaptation (Sroufe,
sion, lower scores on marital satisfaction, 1988). Indeed, there is accumulating evi-
or having a heavy drinking partner was dence that given a continuity of factors
associated with less maternal sensitivity (see sustaining disturbance (Lamb, 1987), inse-
Figures 2 and 3). When infant responsive- cure attachment in infancy is associated
Paternal alcohol use and infancy 317

Table 4. Paternal alcohol use, maternal depression, and marital satisfaction as

predictors of maternal sensitivity, controlling for infant age and gender
Step Predictors Multiple R R1 Increase F Change P Beta at Entry
Regression 1
1 Infant age .08 .01 0.15 .86 -.06
Infant gender .04
2 Paternal alcohol use .21 .04 1.01 .37 -.08
Maternal depression -.16
3 Interaction term .42 .13 7.61 .01 .53**
Regression 2
1 Infant age .07 .01 0.13 .88 .03
Infant gender .06
2 Paternal alcohol use .17 .02 0.58 .56 -.06
Marital satisfaction .12
3 Interaction term .39 .12 6.92 .01 -.69**

< .01.

"••""" Light Drinking Group
" ° ~ ~ " Heavy Drinking Group

1 o.oo H

5 (0.25) -j

| (0.50)-

(0.75) -
Low High

Maternal Depression

Figure 2. The effect of paternal alcohol use and maternal depression on maternal
sensitivity. Results of substituting low and high values of maternal depression and
dummy values for drinking group into multiple regression equation. Maternal sensitiv-
ity scores were standardized and higher values indicate greater maternal sensitivity.

with less effective peer relations and more of conduct problems in early childhood
behavior problems through the early school (Greenberg & Speltz, 1988; Patterson, 1982;
years (e.g., Erickson, Sroufe, & Egeland, Power & Chapieski, 1986). Additionally,
1985; Fagot & Kavanah, 1990; Jacobson & parental characteristics like depression and
Wille, 1986; Lyons-Ruth, Alpern, & Repa- contextual factors like the marital relation-
choli, 1993). Insensitive parenting behav- ship are associated with childhood behavior
iors associated with insecure attachment are problems (e.g., Alpern & Lyons-Ruth,
also known to be related to the development 1993; Brody& Forehand, 1986; Zahn-Wax-
318 R. D. Eiden and K. E. Leonard

Light Drinking Group
Heavy Drinking Group

C/l (0.50)-



Low High

Marital Satisfaction

Figure 3. The effect of paternal alcohol use and marital satisfaction on maternal
sensitivity. Results of substituting low and high values of marital satisfaction and
dummy values for drinking group into multiple regression equation. Maternal sensitiv-
ity scores were standardized and higher values indicate greater maternal sensitivity.

ler, Iannotti, Cummings, & Denham, 1990). to that observed in previous studies of high-
Theories and empirical studies on older chil- risk infants (Lyons-Ruth, Connell, Grune-
dren of alcoholics have also implicated pa- baum.&Botein, 1990; Carlson etal., 1989),
rental psychopathology and contextual fac- and is dramatically different from that usu-
tors associated with heavy alcohol use as ally found in low-risk, predominantly mid-
causal mechanisms in the development of dle-class samples in which approximately
behavior problems. Thus, these results re- two thirds of the infants are generally classi-
garding maternal sensitivity and infant at- fied as secure (Ainsworth et al., 1978; Main
tachment and the moderating effects of ma- & Solomon, 1990). These results lend fur-
ternal depression suggest possible pathways ther support to the idea that fathers' heavy
toward maladjustment among children of drinking may have a deleterious impact on
alcoholics. the family functioning and on infant devel-
The results indicate that paternal heavy opment.
drinking is associated with problems in Although our initial expectation was that
mother-child functioning as early as in- maternal depression and/or marital satis-
fancy. As expected, fathers' alcohol use was faction would mediate the association be-
associated with maternal depression, mari- tween paternal alcohol use and the mother-
tal satisfaction, and the quality of infant infant relationship, the results were not sup-
attachment to the mother. Mothers with portive of this hypothesis. While both mari-
heavy drinking partners reported higher lev- tal satisfaction and maternal depression
els of depression and lower levels of marital were related to paternal drinking, neither
satisfaction compared to those with light was significantly associated with infant at-
drinking partners. Additionally, approxi- tachment security. However, the relation-
mately two thirds of the infants in the heavy ship between paternal alcohol use and in-
drinking group and approximately one third fant attachment was attenuated after
in the light drinking group were classified controlling for maternal depression and
as insecure. The proportion of insecure in- marital satisfaction. This pattern of results
fants in the heavy drinking group is similar neither clearly refutes nor establishes de-
Paternal alcohol use and infancy 319

pression and marital satisfaction as media- with light drinking partners. This result
tors. seems puzzling and contrary to theoretical
Although neither depression nor marital expectations. In particular, the level of sen-
satisfaction clearly served as mediators, ma- sitivity observed in maritally dissatisfied
ternal depression interacted with paternal women with heavy drinking partners was
alcohol use to predict infant attachment considerably higher than we expected. One
security. As expected, mothers with heavy possible explanation arises from the marital
drinking partners and higher scores on de- literature suggesting that the marital and
pression were more likely to have infants parent-child domains are more differenti-
who were insecurely attached compared to ated among women than they are among
mothers with lower scores on depression or men. This may be particularly true for
those with light drinking partners. How- women with heavy drinking partners. For
ever, maternal depression did lower the like- such women, a poorer relationship in the
Iihood of infant attachment security even marital domain may result in compensatory
among the light drinking families. Both ma- behavior with a greater focus on the child
ternal depression and marital satisfaction and on parenting behavior in an attempt to
combined with paternal alcohol use to pre- protect the child from the deleterious family
diet maternal sensitivity toward the infant, situation.
As expected, mothers with light drinking Taken together, the results of this study
partners who had low scores on depression suggest that heavy alcohol consumption by
or high scores on marital satisfaction were fathers may have a deleterious impact on
most sensitive in their interactions with their maternal functioning and infant attach-
infants. On the other hand, having a heavy ment. In considering the potential generaliz-
drinking partner, obtaining higher scores ability of these results, it is important to
on depression, or having lower marital satis- note that the heavy drinking group was far
faction were all associated with lower ma- less impaired than alcoholics in treatment
ternal sensitivity. Thus, maternal depres- or in the general population. For example,
sion and marital satisfaction seemed to the amount of ethanol consumption in this
increase the risk for maternal insensitivity group ranged from 1.02 to 7.50 oz (M —
among light drinking families, but among 2.59) (excluding the two fathers who had
heavy drinking families, these maternal/ alcohol-related problems in the pas!"year-
contextual variables did not contribute to but drank low amounts of alcohol in the
the quality of maternal behavior during past 6 months). Studies using clinical sam-
structured play observations. Mothers with pies from alcoholism treatment facilities
heavy drinking partners displayed moderate have reported mean average daily ethanol
to low levels of sensitivity regardless of their consumption of approximately 9.94 oz (Ba-
marital satisfaction or depressive symp- bor, Kranzler, & Lauerman, 1989) and
toms. Perhaps the multitude of stresses and 11.65 oz (York & Welte, 1994) among alco-
problems associated with heavy paternal al- holies. On the other hand, Jacob and Krahn
cohol use masked the effect of any individ- (1987) reported an average ethanol con-
ual factor such as depression or marital sumption of 6.47 oz among untreated alco-
satisfaction. holies. Thus, while some fathers in this
In addition to the effects described study may meet diagnostic criteria for alco-
above, lower marital satisfaction seemed to holism, as a group, the heavy drinking fa-
have a differential impact on mothers with thers are clearly less severe than diagnosed
light versus heavy drinking partners, alcoholics. Given the direct association be-
. Among mothers with lower marital satisfac- tween current paternal alcohol consump-
tion, those with heavy drinking partners tion and infant attachment, it is probable
seemed to be more sensitive in their interac- that the presence of an alcoholic father who
tions with their infants compared to those is currently heavy drinking may have an
320 R. D. Eiden andK. E. Leonard

even more severe effect on the family and limitations include reliance on maternal re-
on the mother-infant relationship. In fact, ports of fathers' drinking, the small sample
under such circumstances, paternal alcohol- size, and the broad age range of the chil-
ism may also have a direct effect on mater- dren. The infants in this study ranged in
nal sensitivity and infant responsiveness. age from 12 to 24 months. Mother-infant
It is important to note that in addition interactions vary enormously within this age
to paternal alcohol use and associated pa- range and may have influenced the results
rental/contextual factors, potentially heri- in unexpected ways. Future longitudinal
table characteristics like infant negative af- studies of infants of alcoholic fathers with
feet may have moderated or mediated the narrower age ranges could provide more
influence of paternal alcohol use. Children, definitive data about the impact of paternal
especially sons of severely alcoholic fathers heavy drinking in infancy as well as changes
with antisocial alcoholism, have been hy- in this influence over time,
pothesized to have difficult temperaments Further, at present, little information is
during infancy (Tarter, 1988). Indeed, in a available about the relationship between pa-
longitudinal follow-up of infants of alco- ternal alcohol use and the father-infant re-
holics, Werner (1986) found that in addition lationship. Although several studies have
to variations in parenting, behavior prob- examined the influence of maternal psycho-
lems at 18 years of age were related to pathology on the mother-infant relation-
unfavorable infant temperaments. Simi- ship and infant development, there are vir-
larly, prenatal alcohol use has been associ- tually no studies examining the impact of
ated with infant negative affect that in turn paternal psychopathology in infancy. Such
was found to influence mother-infant inter- studies could provide valuable information
action among moderate drinking women about the processes associated with adjust-
(O'Connor, Sigman,&Kasari, 1992). Thus, ment or maladjustment among infants of
infant negative affect may play an impor- alcoholic fathers. Previous studies on chil-
tant role in mediating and/or moderating dren of alcoholics have suggested that the
the relationship between parental alcohol relationship with the nonalcoholic parent,
use, parenting, and infant development and especially the mother, may serve as a protec-
remains to be investigated in relation to tive factor (Clair & Genest, 1987; Drake &
paternal alcohol use. Vallaint, 1988; El-Guebaly & Orford, 1977;
This was a preliminary study designed to Moos & Billings, 1982; Rutter, 1985). Thus,
examine the potential relationship between it is possible that among families with alco-
paternal alcohol use and family functioning holic fathers, a secure mother-infant rela-
during infancy and has several limitations, tionship may moderate the influence of
First, this study was exclusively correla- paternal heavy drinking, even under condi-
tional, and thus causal interpretations tions of an insecure father-infant relation-
about the impact of paternal alcohol use ship. However, to investigate this possibil-
should be viewed with caution. For in- ity, future studies need to incorporate
stance, although the broader alcohol and assessments of the father-infant relation-
family literature suggests that paternal alco- ship as well.
hoi use can cause maternal depression, it In conclusion, the results from this study
remains a possibility that the relationship indicate that heavy alcohol consumption
observed in this study may arise from other among fathers is associated with maternal
causal processes (e.g., assortative mating), functioning and infant adjustment. Further
A second limitation is that the play interac- understanding of parental and infant vari-
tions followed the Strange Situation para- ables that contribute to the developmental
digm and heightened infant arousal during consequences among children of alcohol-
the Strange Situation may have influenced ic fathers necessitates a longitudinal de-
mother-infant interactive behavior. Other sign with the ability to measure potential
Paternal alcohol use and infancy 321

changes in development over time. We comes could have important implications

would argue that an investigation of factors for the prevention of behavior problems
that lead to positive developmental out- and alcohol-related problems in later years.

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