Findings support European model

Kids given alcohol by parents 'less likely to binge drink'

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock
© iStock

Related tags: Drinking culture

Children whose parents give them alcohol have double the risk of drinking in the longer term, though they are less likely to binge drink.

Researchers in Sydney found this group were much more likely to be drinking full measures of alcohol by 15 or 16, in a study involving nearly 2,000 children and their parents over four years.

The study was prompted by widespread interest in the so-called “European model​” of introducing children to alcohol. Parents who practice this offer sips of alcohol to their children from a young age. Some people believe it guards against harmful drinking in later life.

Richard Mattick, a professor at University of New South Wales and a research fellow at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, said it was difficult for parents to know if giving their children alcohol was safe and had benefits.

We know that parents want to do the right thing by their children and there has been anecdotal evidence that children introduced to alcohol by their parents, as is common in some European cultures, may be less likely to develop problems with alcohol​,” he said.

Unfortunately there are very few well designed studies out there that can offer definitive advice to parents; our study was designed to address this gap​.”

Prof. Mattick, with colleagues from Perth and Tasmania, recruited 1,927 adolescents and followed their consumption of whole drinks, seeing if they had more than four on any single occasion, defined in the study as binge drinking. They also investigated whether the alcohol had been supplied by parent, peers or other adults. 

Adjusted for family-related factors such as structure, conflict and alcohol use by relatives, the data suggested that parents would double the likelihood of their children drinking full servings of alcohol a year later if they provided them with alcohol at any point in the study.

Getting alcohol from other sources, such as peers or other adults, also doubled the chance of the adolescents drinking full servings in 12 months. 

As well as being less likely to binge, the former group would also typically drank less. This latter group, however, was three times more likely to binge drink. Prof. Mattick said the results painted a nuanced and complex picture for parents. 

“Parents who supply alcohol to their children may be relieved that they are significantly less likely to engage in harmful behaviour, probably as they are drinking more in front of their parents, so drink less on a given occasion​” he said. 

However, the results also suggest that when parents supply alcohol, even with the best intentions, are likely to accelerate their child’s drinking, and open up potential for future harm.

Prof. Mattick cautioned parents against assuming that they were protecting their children by supplying alcohol because it was likely to reduce binge drinking, saying children should delay drinking for as long as possible. 

They may be giving a permissive message to children which may be setting them on a path to early drinking that might otherwise be avoided​,” he said 

He admitted, though, that the possible protective effects on binge drinking were important and needed to be explored further.

Related topics: Policy, Oceania, Food safety, Beverages

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