COMMENTARY

Should Parents Be the Ones to Introduce Teens to Alcohol?

William T. Basco, Jr, MD, MS

Disclosures

April 04, 2018

Have a Beer, Son

Approaches to alcohol consumption by adolescents vary among developed countries. Available data are unclear on whether parental provision of alcohol in social settings is a risk factor for alcohol misuse or alcohol disorders in adolescents as they age.

Mattick and colleagues[1] sought to compare outcomes among a cohort of Australian adolescents, examining whether parental supply of alcohol, nonparental supply of alcohol, or the combination of these approaches was associated with five measures of alcohol use:

  • Binge drinking;

  • Alcohol-related harms;

  • Symptoms of alcohol abuse;

  • Alcohol dependence; and

  • Alcohol use disorder.

More than 1900 adolescents were recruited in 2010 and 2011 from seventh-grade classes in three Australian cities. Baseline measures were obtained when the children were in seventh grade, at a mean age of 12.9 years.

The patients and their parents completed surveys that captured demographic information and alcohol behaviors. Alcohol-related harms, alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence, and alcohol use disorder were all assessed annually for 6 years. The adolescents reported who supplied them with alcohol during the previous 12-month period—their own parents, nonparents, self-supply, or no alcohol use—or a combination of parents and nonparents.

No Protective Effect

At the study's end (year 6), when the average age of participants was 17.8 years, 57% reported that they had been supplied alcohol by their parents. In general, compared with "no supply," parental supply of alcohol was associated with both binge drinking and risk for any alcohol-related harm. Alcohol-related harms were found among the 35% of teens who received alcohol from parents, 72% of the teens who received alcohol only from nonparents, and 86% among the teens who received alcohol from both sources.

We need to rethink the notion that providing minor children with alcohol will protect them from adverse alcohol-related outcomes.

Provision of alcohol by nonparents was associated with higher rates (15%-20%) of alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence, or alcohol use disorder by year 6. Compared with no supply of alcohol, the risk for all alcohol misuse measures was higher among teens in the combination group or who received alcohol only from nonparents.

Viewpoint

The researchers acknowledge a few study limitations. It was nonrandomized and was conducted in a single country. They also were unable to control for other sociodemographic variables known to be linked with alcohol consumption, such as education level and other substance use. That said, the longitudinal nature of the study adds power to its compelling findings.

We need to rethink the notion that providing minor children with alcohol will protect them from adverse alcohol-related outcomes; this study suggests otherwise. And although this certainly won't end debate on the topic, it's very good information to have handy when counseling parents about teen drinking.

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