Daily Archives: 03/10/2015

Parents influence their children’s drinking

Ipsos MORI was commissioned by alcohol education charity Drinkaware to undertake a survey of young people aged 10-17 living in the UK, to provide a picture of their drinking attitudes and behaviours and the report was released in July.  It was interested in particular with whether parents influence their children’s drinking.

observational learning




This is what the Drinkaware website says:

In November 2014 we carried out a survey on the drinking habits of young people and adults across the UK.

By separately interviewing young people and their parents we are able not only to investigate the drinking habits of young people but also to show how these relate to the attitudes, behaviours and consumption of their parents.

The full Young People Monitor can be downloaded here.

The Executive Summary can be downloaded here.

I was particularly interested in the impact of parental thoughts, feelings and behaviours around their children and whether these influence their children’s drinking.  Instinctively I felt the answer was ‘yes’ because of the evidence around things like Bandura’s social role modelling theory in psychology.  This report provided the evidence to support this feeling.

Parents influence their children’s drinking

There is a clear link between young people’s drinking, drunkenness and harmful drinking and their parental attitudes and whether or not they supervise their child’s drinking. 

  • 15% of those with parents who think 13 or younger is an acceptable age for a first drink say they have felt encouraged to drink by their mum or dad, compared to just two per cent whose parents say 16 or older is the youngest acceptable age to drink alcohol
  • 75% of those whose parents think 13 is an acceptable age to drink have had a drink; only 32% of those whose parents thing 16/17 is an acceptable age

1. Parental drinking was measured in two ways:

  1. Weekly unit consumption, giving categories of lower-risk, increasing risk and higher risk
  2. And AUDIT, giving categories of Low risk (Zone 1), Hazardous (Zone 2), Harmful (Zone 3) and Dependent (Zone 4)
  • 34% of children of lower-risk parents have had a drink; 62% of high risk drinkers
  • 35% of children of AUDIT Zone 1 parents have had a drink; 61% of children of AUDIT Zone 3 or 4 parents
  • Parents who drink above guidelines or who score highly on AUDIT are more likely to think  it’s OK for kids to drink at 13

2. Parental supervision matters:

  • 62% who had first alcoholic drink unsupervised have been drunk, vs 25% who were supervised
  • Unsupervised drinkers are more likely to experience harms (39% vs 8% of those who have never drunk unsupervised).
  • Unsupervised drinkers are more likely to say drinking gives them confidence to meet new friends


Overall, underage drinking is declining. However there remains a group of young people (19% of those who drink) who drink at least once a week. 12% of  10-17 year-olds who drink  have suffered a serious harm as a result (hospitalisation, being in a fight, trouble with the police or being a victim of crime).

There are a range of factors associated with underage drinking, and with harm from underage drinking. These include: parental acceptance of underage drinking; drinking to cope; low mental wellbeing; drinking to feel confident meeting new people; drinking unsupervised; and parental drinking patterns.

So there we have it.  What we do around our children regarding our drinking impacts what they do.  Observational learning applies here just like most other situations ……

Edited to add: 27/11/2015

Does parental drinking influence children’s drinking?

Alcohol consumption accounts for approximately 19% of DALYs (defined by WHO as one lost year of “healthy” life) and 27% of premature deaths amongst young people in high income countries (Toumbourou et al, 2007) | Mental Elf, UK