Children given alcohol to drink by their parents more likely to be heavy drinkers

This was in the Daily Mail recently and wanted to share it here.

Parents who allow their young teenagers to drink alcohol in the hope it will teach them responsible drinking habits later on in life may be doing the opposite.

A study has found teenagers whose parents supply alcohol in early adolescence are three times more likely to drink full serves of alcohol at age 16, compared to those who wait.  The study’s chief investigator, Professor Richard Mattick, said parents are confused about the best way to moderate their children’s drinking.  But he says the study shows supplying booze doesn’t work, with the biggest predictor for drinking alcohol in year 10 being early parental supply through school years 7 to 9.  ‘Parents are the major supplier of alcohol to the under 18s,’ Professor Mattick said.  ‘Many of these do so with the best of intentions, to introduce alcohol in a safe, supervised environment, with the aim of moderating a child’s drinking.’

Professor Mattick said the findings of the study had not been anticipated by researchers and recommend parents to be aware of the risks associated with supplying alcohol to their children.

Professor Mattick said adolescent drinking was linked to later harms in early adulthood including injury, sexually transmitted diseases and adult alcohol dependence, with changes in brain function reported by US researchers.  About one in six children in the study reported being given alcohol by their parents at age 12 and 13.  More than one-third of the study’s sample were supplied with alcohol by their parents at age 15 and 16.  ‘The results also indicate that those children who are given alcohol by their parents may be more likely to seek out alcohol from a variety of other sources,’ said Dr Monika Wadolowski, who recently completed a PhD on aspects of the research.

The study conducted by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, followed nearly 2,000 parent and child pairs over four years and aimed to provide guidance to parents on how best to moderate their children’s drinking.   Australian Drug Foundation spokesman Geoff Munro told ABC that other studies have shown young people who start drinking before 18 can develop physical, emotional and cognitive problems. 

Mr Munro recommends young teenagers avoid ‘alcohol for as long as possible’.  

There is also a really interesting video of a panel discussion linked from The Daily Mail piece where Drinkaware and the Guardian interview a group of young people that is well worth a watch if you want to see it from their perspective.

Some of the comments under the article are interesting in that they point to Europe and how it has not impacted on the European young people and their relationship with alcohol.  I would argue that maybe the parents who give their children alcohol earlier on in adolescence within the UK are themselves regular drinkers and maybe this has more to do with role modeling social behaviour.  If it is normal for your parents to drink regularly and heavily this will seem normal to you as that young person.

It probably goes without saying that I will not be encouraging my children to drink before they are 18 because of what I’ve discovered through my research for this blog about alcohol and changes to brain functioning it causes.  It was primarily discussed in the ‘chunking and addiction formation in adolescents post here.

What do you think?

8 thoughts on “Children given alcohol to drink by their parents more likely to be heavy drinkers

  1. I absolutely believe there’s a correlation between giving alcohol early to kids / teenagers early and them ending up as heavier drinkers in the long term, but I think there are other correlations that you’d need to bear in mind as well, so it’s not the only factor… parents who give alcohol to their children are likely to be drinkers themselves, perhaps heavy drinkers, and have alcohol in the house. This means that as the children are growing up – from a young age, before they touch alcohol themselves – they are seeing that behaviour modelled. Bad day, have a drink. Party time, have a drink. Sunday lunch, have a drink. They see it, they copy it, whatever you say to them, whatever you do or don’t give them. Also – it’s in the house, so to a certain extent, it’s available, with or without permission. One time honoured method that teenagers have of obtaining alcohol is pinching it from their parents, and the more there is around, the easier that is to do.
    While reading this, part of me was thinking, at least I don’t have to worry about this for a while, but then I read about children in school years 7 & 8 drinking. Yikes. My eldest is in yr 5 so I can see that this is a dialogue I need to open up, and keep open for a few years to come. Interesting stuff, thanks for the post 🙂 xx

    1. Agree completely MTM! And yes the thought of giving a Y7 alcohol makes me wince too – my eldest is Y4 so it’s on my radar too 🙂 xx

  2. I have a plan to tell both of my children that if they don’t drink before they are 21 then I will buy them a car. Legal age is 18 here but if they wait a few years I will hand over a fairly decent auto. The data is everywhere that teen brains are still developing and that getting drunk from18 onwards is doing some major damage. Add to that the fact that they are more than likely predisposed to having a problem and I am going to do everything in my power to halt them taking that first drink. Lots of open discussion, lots of education, lots of luck, lol.

    I had a little tiff with a friend who was letting her 14 year old have a small glass thinking that she was doing the right thing. I tried to gently suggest that there is a lot of research saying it wasn’t a good idea. I was told that just because I had decided to give up having fun I should keep my opinions to myself. As an outsider to this circle of alcohol now it is so easy to pick when my abstinence is making people uncomfortable with their own consumption. Not my problem but still upsetting and I always think that if the same thing were happening with cigarettes it would not be frowned upon to voice concern. Maybe in 10 years time it might have evolved to the point where our society is not so blindly alco-centric … until then I can probably only try and keep my own kids out of harms way.


    1. What a great idea Kirst!! I’m nabbing that one from you if that’s okay 😉 Do you think you’ll be hold them off until 21? 18 maybe if they’ve passed their test at 17 was what I was thinking was do-able. It’s so interesting and sad isn’t it that us not drinking is perceived as spoiling someone else’s fun and you are so right about the cigarettes. No one would give a 14 yr old one would they so why is a drink ok? I so hope you’re right as in 10 years time my eldest will be 18!! 🙂 xx

  3. I recently saw of photo of me sipping my mom’s wine. I was about 5 years old. Everyone in the photo was giggling, Ughh, no surprise what happened in the end. Great post. I love the data. Facts don’t lie. Mine are 14 and 11 now, so I am careful to engage in healthy dialogue and have an alcohol free house. xox Lisa

    1. Hey Lisa! Thank you for sharing your experience and backing up the quantitative data with good qualitative data 🙂 xx

  4. going to tread carefully here by saying I absolutely respect everyone’s right to their opinion….have been really struggling with this re my nearly 15 year old. my husband (complete normie) and I pretty much agree on how to handle alcohol with him…which is to allow him a small glass of wine (probably less than 100ml) or a single bottle of beer occasionally – probably once a fortnight? In many ways I would be happier, having read all the stuff on developing brains, if it were none at all until he is much older. our responsibility as parents is to help him make his own decisions in our ridiculously alcogenic world. but I wince when I see him sipping it… it is an incredibly difficult choice to make for our adolescent children. I am probably more scared that if we demonise it then we will add to its attractiveness. and as MTM says the normalising of alcohol begins at home. we had a great evening last night, sitting round watching a movie, eating popcorn and drinking hot chocolate. if my kids do not see a bottle of wine as an everyday occurence in this house, I hope that role modelling will stick and outweigh potential harms caused by an occasional consumption of a small amount of alcohol.

    by the way, my parents never gave me any alcohol at all as a child. I began drinking regularly in my late teens. nothing was ever said about it at home, even when I showed the ill effects of it. I was supposed to make my own decisions, and learn from my own mistakes, I think 🙁 which I have, BUT IT TOOK ME THIRTY YEARS.

    think what I’m trying to say is that communication with our children is VITAL, whatever decision we make for them about whether and how much alcohol they consume when they are under our roof/eyes. we must keep talking to our kids and make sure they understand it is an ADDICTIVE DRUG.

    sorry for essay 🙂 xx

    1. Thanks Prim for sharing your experience. I agree that it is so difficult to know what to do and as you say from your experience not having alcohol as a child does not necessarily protect us. Communication is key as you so also rightly say 🙂 xx

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