Kids Response to Alcohol Odor Linked to Mom’s Emotions

A study coming out of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia connects kids reactions to alcohol odors to their mom’s emotions. Children of mothers who were considered to be “escape drinkers” were more likely to choose an unpleasant smell over the smell of beer than children of non-escape drinkers.

A mother was determined to be an “escape drinker” if she had at least 2 escape reasons – i.e., helps to relax, need when tense and nervous, helps to cheer up when in a bad mood, helps to forget worries, and helps to forget everything – for drinking. 35 women in the study were classified as “escape drinkers.” 145 children between the ages of 5 and 8 participated.

The children were presented with 7 pairs of odors, one always being beer, and were asked which odor they preferred. Children of the “escape drinkers” preferred the odor that was not beer, even when the other odor was as unpleasant as cigarette smoke or rotten eggs. Questionnaire results from the mothers also showed that “escape drinkers” drank more than non-escape drinkers, thus exposing their children to the smells of alcohol more often. The same mothers were shown to be more tense and more likely to worry and feel guilty about their drinking.

According to the study’s lead author Julie Mennella, PhD, a Monell biopsychologist, “Children’s responses to odors provide us with a window into their emotions…Even before their first taste, young children are learning about alcohol and about why their parents drink. They do this by seeing people drink and hearing them talk about it.”

The study appears in the journal Alcohol, 2008, 42, 249-260.

Read the press release from the Monell Chemical Senses Center: Kids connect alcohol odors with mom’s emotions

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