Video: Binge drinking teenagers - are parents to blame?

The idea of giving your children a sip of alcohol now and again with dinner to get them used to it makes intuitive sense - you get to control how much they have and it makes drinking a bit of alcohol ‘normal,’ not something they need to seek out in a rebellious phase. As they get older, you may choose to supply their alcohol - rather than have them get it from other sources you don’t know about. But what does the science say about this approach?

In this Australian study, the researchers recruited more than 1,900 Year 7 students (and their parents) from independent, Catholic and government schools in Perth, Hobart and Sydney. They then followed that cohort of students from Year 7 through to Year 12, each year assessing their attitudes and behaviours around alcohol in a questionnaire format. Questions they asked included whether the student had been involved in binge drinking in the past year, whether they had experienced any of a range of harms related to alcohol, whether they had experienced symptoms of alcohol abuse or dependence, and who supplied the student alcohol (whether it was sips or standard drinks) in the past 12 months - including if it was a parent, sibling or friend. They also gathered self-reported data from the parents in the study on their own drinking habits and any familial drinking problems.

Parental supply of alcohol increased markedly over the six-year period - in Year 7, 15 per cent of students were supplied alcohol by their parents while 57 per cent were by the time they reached Year 12. Those who reported that their parents gave them alcohol were significantly more likely to binge drink, experience alcohol-related harms and have an alcohol use disorder, compared to those who reported they didn’t have a supply of alcohol. A parent supplying alcohol was also associated with a much higher likelihood of the student also having access to other sources of alcohol supply.

Implications

The study’s authors say the research indicates a pattern of harm to children when their parents give them alcohol and suggests that earlier initiation to alcohol could lead to a higher risk of binge drinking down the track. They argue there is no rationale for parents to give alcohol to children younger than the legal drinking age.

References

Mattick, et al. (2018). Association of parental supply of alcohol with adolescent drinking, alcohol-related harms, and alcohol use disorder symptoms: a prospective cohort study. The Lancet Public Health doi: 10.1016/ S2468-2667(17)30240-2