Other factors, not early sip of alcohol, leads young people to alcohol abuse: study

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Sixty per cent of 13 year olds have had a sip or taste of alcohol, say researchers at the University of New South Wales.

Key points:

  • Study surveyed nearly 2,000 families around Australia
  • Research found other factors more likely to lead to alcohol abuse
  • Research will track the children over the next four years

They are trying to determine whether a parent supplying alcohol would affect the way young people consume alcohol in the future, a question they say parents worry about.

Researchers look at impact of parents supplying alcohol to teens


According to the lead author of the study, Dr Monika Wadolowski, more and more parents are allowing their children to sip or taste alcohol despite recommendations against that.

She said they found that it was not the early sip of alcohol from parents that led to young people abusing alcohol, but other factors such as whether their peers were drinking or if they were exhibiting rule breaking behaviour.

The new study has surveyed nearly 2,000 families around the country.

Dr Wadolowski said they found that sipping was very common amongst young children.

“So we started with grade seven students … around 12 years old at the time, and parental supply of sips was really common,” she said.

“And what I was finding when I’d go out to schools, talking to parents, that was a big issue for them wanting to know is this the right thing or is this the wrong thing?”

Dr Wadalowksi said her research will be tracking the children over the next four years.

She said early findings suggested parental supply was just one factor influencing future drinking habits.

“What we found is that kids who are supplied a sip of alcohol by their parents, a year later, they were no more likely to drink or just continue sipping alcohol,” Dr Wadalowski said.

“It was other factors that actually led them to start drinking, so things like if their peers were using alcohol, if they were having rule breaking behaviour, that kind of thing, it wasn’t actually the supply of the sip that led to drinking itself.”

Parents supplying sips in hopes of protecting their kids

Dr Wadalowski said that it was known that alcohol use by adolescents has a lot of negative outcomes, and that it was associated with a lot of long-term risks.

“But [what] we need to actually think about [is] ok, it’s happening in this context, and what can we do about it,” she said.

“Knowing that parents are supplying sips, and if they are supplying it in the hope that they are protecting their children, that’s a really important factor to tap into for future prevention efforts.”

Dr Wadolowski said what they found was that parents were often giving their children a sip of alcohol to try and pre-empt that their child may go and abuse alcohol with their friends in an unsupervised context.

“So parents might actually think that, ok, if I supply a sip at home in this controlled environment, that may prevent my child from going and binge drinking with their friends and I’m not going to know about it.

“So that’s really important point, to understand why parents do that and how that might then affect future alcohol use.

“I think a lot of studies tend to focus on whether they’ve had a whole drink, we ask about whether they’ve had a sip and how frequently it occurs and also about the type of context that it occurs in, so did it happen with the parents.

“And we also ask about the context … did it happen at special occasions, family dinners, birthdays.

“And what we found was it tended to happen in very controlled kind of monitored special occasions.”