A new Australian study finds no evidence to support the practice of parents providing alcohol to their teens in an effort to protect them from alcohol-related risks. Rather, this practice was found to increase the likelihood of teens accessing alcohol through other sources, compared to teens not given any alcohol.
“In many countries, parents are a key provider of alcohol to their children before they are of legal age to purchase alcohol,” says lead author Professor Richard Mattick of the University of New South Wales, Australia. “This practice by parents is intended to protect teenagers from the harms of heavy drinking by introducing them to alcohol carefully, but the evidence behind this has been limited.”
Mattick said the study is the first to analyze parental supply of alcohol and detail its effects over the long term, and finds that it is, in fact, associated with risks when compared to teenagers not given alcohol.
“This reinforces the fact that alcohol consumption leads to harm, no matter how it is supplied,” he said. “We advise that parents should avoid supplying alcohol to their teenagers if they wish to reduce their risk of alcohol-related harms.”
The six-year study involved 1,927 teenagers (aged 12 to 18) from secondary schools in Perth, Sydney and Hobart (Australia). The teens and their parents completed separate questionnaires every year from 2010 to 2016 which included information about the following: How teenagers accessed alcohol (from parents, other non-parental sources, or both), binge drinking levels (defined as drinking more than four drinks on a single occasion in the past year), experience of alcohol-related harm, and alcohol abuse symptoms.
At the start of the study, the average age of the teenagers was 12.9 years old and by the end of the study the average age was 17.8 years old. In the final two years, the teens were also asked about symptoms of alcohol dependence and alcohol use disorder that could predict alcohol misuse problems in the future.
The findings show that the proportion of teens who accessed alcohol from their parents increased as the teenagers aged, from 15 percent at the start of the study to 57 percent at the end of the study, while the proportion with no access to alcohol reduced from 81 percent of teenagers to 21 percent.
Importantly, teens supplied with alcohol by only their parents one year were twice as likely to access alcohol from other sources the following year. As a result, the authors suggest that having alcohol supplied by parents does not mitigate the risk of it being supplied by other people, and that parental provision of alcohol did not appear to help teenagers deal with alcohol responsibly.
By the end of the study, 81 percent of the teens who received alcohol from their parents and others reported binge drinking, compared with 62 percent of those who accessed it via other people only, and 25 percent of teens who were given alcohol by their parents only.
Similar trends were seen for alcohol-related harm and for symptoms of possible future alcohol abuse, dependence, and alcohol use disorders. Teens who had been supplied with alcohol from both their parents and other sources were at the greatest risk of the five adverse outcomes, potentially as a result of their increased exposure.
“While governments focus on prevention through school-based education and enforcement of legislation on legal age for buying and drinking alcohol, parents go largely unnoticed,” says Mattick.
“Parents, policymakers, and clinicians need to be made aware that parental provision of alcohol is associated with risk, not with protection, to reduce the extent of parental supply in high-income countries, and in low-middle-income countries that are increasingly embracing the consumption of alcohol.”
The researchers note some study limitations, including that teenagers from low socioeconomic status backgrounds, for whom alcohol-related issues are more common, were underrepresented in the study. Furthermore, the binge drinking measure (defined as drinking more than four drinks on a single occasion in the past year) was conservative, which may affect the associations identified.
The findings may not apply to other countries, in particular where there is lower alcohol consumption than Australia, and the study does not account for the amount of alcohol supplied by parents, or the context in which it is given.
Alcohol consumption is the leading risk factor for death and disability in 15-24 year olds globally. Teen drinking is concerning as this is when alcohol use disorders (i.e., dependence on or abuse of alcohol) are most likely to develop.
The findings are published in The Lancet Public Health journal.
Source: The Lancet