Alcohol-related aggression is estimated to be involved in half of all assaults globally. In addition, alcohol-related aggression is most likely to occur among young males and usually at a bar or other licensed venue. While it is clear that drinking and heavy binge drinking can lead to male-to-male alcohol-related aggression (MMARA), this study is the first to examine the role of the father-son relationship in MMARA, finding that negative fathering is particularly influential.
Results will be published in the September 2013 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research and are currently available at Early View.
"Alcohol affects people in a number of predictable ways which make it more likely that they will become involved in aggressive incidents," explained Peter G. Miller, associate professor of psychology at Deakin University, Geelong Waterfront Campus, as well as corresponding author for the study. "They become focused on the moment, have poorer decision-making skills, and interpret social situations incorrectly. All of which mean they are more likely to be both perpetrators and victims of violence."
Samantha Wells, a scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health who was not in involved in this study, has conducted similar research on linkages between masculinity and aggression in bars. "These findings may further explain the link between masculinity and male violence; that is, boys who experience violence in the home at the hands of their fathers may react by embracing extreme versions of masculinity as a way of gaining a sense of power," she said. "In this way, the cycle of violence continues. But what is important here is the suggestion that the cycle of violence extends into social behaviour in a bar setting. This finding confirms that male aggression in bars is not simply 'boys being boys' – it's troubled boys being anti-social and harming others."
Miller's study defines "negative fathering" as an abusive or absent relationship to the child. "The terms we use are: indifference, so lack of emotional attachment or concern for the child; abuse, noted as both verbal and physical, for example, shaming or belittling the child, being verbally aggressive or physically violent such as hitting, punching, spanking; and over-control, an authoritarian relationship characterized by high expectations of conformity and compliance to parental rules and directions, while allowing little open dialogue between parent and child," he said.
Miller and his colleagues surveyed 137 students from Deakin University in Australia, 18 to 25 years of age, using an online questionnaire. The questions were designed to examine if fathering by a biological father rather than another father figure, negative fathering, and gender role modeled by the father figure, were significant predictors of involvement in MMARA, once drinking frequency and quantity and heavy episodic drinking were controlled for.
"Our study found that abusive fathering was associated with the perpetration of MMARA," said Miller, "and that the usual number of alcoholic drinks consumed when drinking significantly predicted participation in MMARA.
Both Miller and Wells believe these findings can be highly helpful for clinicians.
"Understanding the importance of the father-son relationship, and what type of relationship significantly predicts perpetration of MMARA, can help clinicians identify those individuals most at risk of partaking in problematic alcohol behaviour through identifying what type of relationship they had with their father," said Miller. "Prevention campaigns can also be mounted at a population level about the role of the father-son relationship on subsequent aggression."
Wells concurred. "Given that fathering appears to be important, and in particular, abusive fathering, programming may need to address this issue head on," she said. "The role of alcohol in aggression is also extremely important. Therefore, institutions need to adopt evidence-based programming to reduce alcohol consumption among young people. As well, young men face tremendous social pressure to demonstrate conformity to traditional masculine norms, especially in the setting of the bar. Therefore, programs are needed that incorporate these concerns with masculinity. Finally, programs that directly target violence in bars are needed, such as those addressing bar staff behavior and bar policies affecting the barroom environment."
"Previous research has primarily observed the role of the mother in child development, leaving a dearth of literature on the relationship of the father," noted Miller. "This study firstly adds to the literature regarding the role of the father on child development. Secondly, it is the first of its kind to specifically observe the role of the father as a predictive factor of MMARA."
"Perhaps our findings can help the average reader understand their friend or family member's behaviour and take steps to help them," said Miller. "Such as finding out if their friend/family member experienced an abusive relationship with their father, and suggesting counseling services, or discussing it openly as a cathartic experience."
"A key problem with male bar violence is the widespread view that such behavior is completely normal and acceptable," added Wells. "We have found that young men tend to perceive that their male peers approve of barroom aggression, and this perception is linked to their own aggression. These kinds of pressures may have a substantial impact on young men who have had negative relationships with their fathers and are seeking ways to assert their identity. Therefore, it is time to challenge the idea that we can let 'boys be boys' by communicating disapproval for such behavior. Friends or family might also help by demonstrating alternative ways to assert identity, especially when challenged. We also need to understand the key role of alcohol in aggression; and avoiding aggression may involve avoiding heavy drinking situations or risky drinking settings, such as bars where male violence is common, or avoiding alcohol altogether."