Children should be informed about alcohol dangers from age 9, say experts

This was an interesting report published by the American Association of Pediatrics stating that children should be educated about the dangers of alcohol from the age of 9.  This is particularly close to home for me as my eldest son is 9 years old …….

Nancy Cartwright voices the mischievous 10-year-old son, Bart, in the animated TV show, The Simpsons. "I don't know of any other character that has more catch-phrases than Bart," she says.

Given the high prevalence of binge drinking among adolescents, parents and pediatricians should talk to children about the dangers of alcohol use from the age of 9 years. This is according to a clinical report from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Co-authored by Dr. Lorena Siqueira, clinical professor of pediatrics at Florida International University and member of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Committee of Substance Abuse, the report is published in the journal Pediatrics.

Alcohol use among children and adolescents has become a major concern in the US. According to the AAP report, around 21% of adolescents have had at least one sip of alcohol before the age of 13, with almost 80% having done so by 12th grade.

In addition, the report notes that around 36-50% of high school students drink alcohol, with 28-60% reporting binge drinking. Of these, almost two-thirds report binge drinking on at least one occasion in the past 30 days.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) define binge drinking as a “pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08 g/dL,” which normally occurs after the consumption of four alcoholic beverages within 2 hours for women and five or more drinks within 2 hours for men.

However, Dr. Siqueira and colleagues note that because children and teenagers typically weigh less than adults, it is likely to take less alcohol to reach unsafe BAC levels.

Children ‘start to think positively about alcohol’ from the age of 9

Three or more alcoholic beverages in 2 hours is considered binge drinking among girls aged 9-17 and boys aged 9-13, according to the report authors. For boys aged 14-15, four or more drinks in 2 hours is defined as binge drinking, rising to five or more drinks in 2 hours for boys aged 16-17.

“Given their lack of experience with alcohol and smaller bodies, children and adolescents can have serious consequences – including death – with their first episode of binge drinking,” says Dr. Siqueira.

“Studies have indicated that continued alcohol use during this growth period can interfere with important aspects of brain development that can lead to cognitive impairment, alcohol-induced brain damage and substance use disorders later in life,” she adds.

What is more, Dr. Siqueira points out that adolescents who engage in binge drinking are more likely to engage in risky behaviors – such as drunk driving – and have higher rates of suicide.

“As with most high-risk behaviors, early prevention proves to be more effective than later intervention,” she notes. As such, the report authors say both pediatricians and parents should be aware of the dangers alcohol use can pose to children and teenagers and recommend that they communicate these risks to children from the age of 9 years.

Explaining the reasons for their recommendation, the authors say:

“Surveys indicate that children start to think positively about alcohol between ages 9 and 13 years. The more young people are exposed to alcohol advertising and marketing, the more likely they are to drink, and if they are already drinking, this exposure leads them to drink more.

Therefore, it is very important to start talking to children about the dangers of drinking as early as 9 years of age.”

Guidelines for pediatricians

The report suggests pediatricians should inform parents about the key role they play in their child’s alcohol use, pointing to a 2013 study that found parental communication about alcohol use before children went to college reduced the likelihood of heavy drinking in adolescence by 20 times.

In addition, the authors say pediatricians should assess all adolescents for alcohol use using “structured screening instruments.”

They recommend the use of a screening tool created by the AAP and NIAAA consisting of two questions that vary by age group. For children aged 9-11, for example, the tool would ask: “Do you have any friends who drank beer, wine, or any drink containing alcohol in the past year?” and “How about you – have you ever had more than a few sips of beer, wine, or any drink containing alcohol?”

“This very brief screen can detect risk early, is empirically based, and is a good predictor of current and future negative consequences of alcohol use,” say the authors.

While adolescent drinking remains a key concern in the US, a report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) released in June found the rate of alcohol use among youths aged 12-20 drinking has reduced significantly over the past decade, falling from 28.8% in 2002 to 22.7% in 2013.

I find that an impressive statistic – parental communication reducing likelihood of heavy drinking by 20 times but equally am not sure about using a screening tool with my own children.  As a professional seeing children it would be appropriate.

My two haven’t seen us drinking for 2 years so since my eldest was 7 and even before then most of our drinking was done once they were in bed.  I’m really hoping that this non-alcohol consumption role-modelling has been a good grounding for them and they do ask questions about our NA beer so we’ve had brief conversations with them both already.  If I need to step it up a gear that’s fine by me 🙂  What do you think?

6 thoughts on “Children should be informed about alcohol dangers from age 9, say experts

  1. I definitely think the role-modelling is just as important as communication with children. I remember as a kid I couldn’t wait to drink like the “grown-ups”. If I only knew! xx

  2. Hi Louise,

    Yes, I think the role modelling is important. I think I got introduced to the vibe of addiction at an early age and that made me ‘want to join in’ and do the ‘grown up thing’. The vibe was expressed by the anticipation of drinking that my parents, mostly my father showed. The ‘Work is done! Time for a beer!’ mode he got in. (Aah, now it hits me that I might not make the ‘work thing work’ yet because the link is still strong: no beer, no work, I can actually feel it still being active. Hmmm…. )

    I think it is important that kids get the ‘well, alcohol might not be so good’ message BEFORE they are infected with that vibe. And I do not think you have to really be addicted to spread it, being hooked is enough. Already thinking that alcohol can do something positive for you, as e.g. is expressed in letting yourself fall into a chair, sigh loudly and say ‘Ooh, I deserve this!’ is spreading the idea that alcohol is good and does something important for us. That is how it is portrayed in movies.

    Yeah, on movies, shows and advertising, these portray images of situations in which it is a good idea to drink; when you just won something, when you graduated, when you are celebrating anything at all actually, when you finished a job, when somebody dies, when you broke up, when you got fired, when you don’t fit in, when you are very popular. Whatever, alcohol seems to be The Solution to any emotional thing. I think speaking with kids should include that this message is not correct. And haha, possible ways of dealing with strong emotions in another way. 🙂

    The Jason Vale book has a whole list of these ways alcohol is being advertised directly and indirectly. If I had kids and I would speak with them about this subject I think I would get the book and make up a powerpoint / video with examples of all these subject in them to show what I mean. Ghegheghe, which is probably why I don’t have kids. 🙂 But… well.

    Also, when doing this with schools, I think it is very important that the parents are aware of their reactions. If a kid comes home saying: I’m never going to drink alcohol and you should not either because it is unhealty… well… it might be smart to have a good reaction to that. Saying ‘Who told you this BS is erm, maybe not a good idea.’ 🙂

    Well, my 2 cents spread over one A4. 🙂

    xx, Feeling

    1. Thank you for sharing your perspective feeling and I agree! In the schools where I used to work the Drug and Alcohol team used to do the education so it was pretty thorough. Not sure where I’m working now though …… 🙂

  3. Hi Lou – really found that interesting . I never spoke to my eldest daughter about drinking – I encouraged her to drink with me when she was old enough which I regret . I am completely different with my youngest daughter now I don’t drink . We were at the airport yesterday at 6 .30 having breakfast and my daughter asked me why so many people were in the bar there drinking at that time of the morning . I said it is because alcohol is an addictive drug and a holiday is an feeble excuse to drink at anytime of the day . Mind you my husband said my explanation was a bit strong ! I found yesterday difficult as we are staying at my first all inclusive hotel since I gave up and it crossed my mind as it usually does on my first day to have a drink . I think it is old programming about not getting my money’s worth ! Anyway after Day 1 I am usually fine . I ate too much to compensate and went to bed feeling absolutely stuffed which was annoying. I am going to clean up my act today and start with a jog and have a read of your old blogs to give me my usual injection of positiveness! Lots of love x

    1. Hey May. Go you for recognising the old programming for what it is and I would be completely the same about an all inclusive holiday and getting my money’s worth!! I would get them to make you the snazziest alcohol free mocktails they can russle up instead 😉 As for early morning airport drinking, yup I agree with you and you called it how you see it to your daughter, no shame in that 🙂 Have a lovely holiday and stay strong sober warrior xx

Comments are closed.