What Influences 11-year-olds to Drink? Findings From the Millennium Cohort Study

Yvonne Kelly; Alice Goisis; Amanda Sacker; Noriko Cable; Richard G. Watt; Annie Britton


BMC Public Health. 2016;16(169) 

In This Article


Regular heavy and binge drinking are recognised as major public health problems in terms of mortality, morbidity and wider social and economic consequences,[1,2] and regular and heavy drinking in youth are related to risky behaviours, educational failure and to the leading causes of death in adolescence.[3–5] Among the vast majority of people who consume alcohol, initiation of drinking takes place during adolescence.[6] The question remains open as to whether early initiation of drinking causes problematic alcohol use later in life with recent review articles reaching opposing conclusions.[7,8] However, the importance of adolescent drinking is likely shaped by the timing and pattern of drinking as well as the broader social context. Research from Italy and Finland suggests the significance of context specific alcohol socialisation processes in relation to adolescent drinking.[9] Over the last decade there has been a decline in the prevalence of drinking among adolescents in the UK,[10] however consumption levels among UK youth remain higher than the European average.[11] Among UK adolescent drinkers there is no evidence of a reduction in the quantity of alcohol consumed,[10] and hospital admissions due to alcohol among the under 18 s remain a concern.[12]

Adolescence is a time of dramatic change that influences young people's sense of autonomy and their exploration of risky behaviours. Factors shown to influence young people's drinking include parent and peer drinking behaviours, perceptions of risk, expectancies towards alcohol and supportive family relationships.[13–17] Most prior studies have focused on drinking behaviours in mid and late teenage years[13,17–19] and as highlighted in recent reviews[4,20] less is known about influences on drinking among pre-teens. Improving our understanding of factors that influence drinking initiation at the beginning of adolescence could help develop policies and effective alcohol harm reduction strategies.

Given the paucity of work on the initiation of drinking in very early adolescence, in this paper we address two research objectives 1. to assess associations of parental and friends' drinking with reported drinking among 11 year olds; and 2. to investigate the roles of perceptions of harm, expectancies towards alcohol, parental supervision and family relationships on drinking among 11 year olds. To do this we analysed data from the large contemporary population based Millennium Cohort Study.