It is a question many parents ponder: Is there a right time to introduce children to alcohol?
While research into the health risks of alcohol on a developing brain was in, some parents wonder if the European-style of drinking — introducing drink to children around the dinner table with family — would result in a better relationship with the substance later on.
In Italy, where wine is seen as a central part of the nation’s cultural identity, primary school children are set to be taught about wine, its history, and how to drink responsibly.
But experts do not think that approach would be wise for Australians given the nation’s cultural relationship with grog.
Australia’s legal drinking age is 18 years old, while each state has its own laws about supplying minors with alcohol in a private setting.
Professor Ann Roche, from National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction at Flinders University, said Australians’ relationship with alcohol was vastly different from many European cultures.
“I think it is very perplexing for people … when you look at one culture and one context such as Italy — where alcohol is often introduced at a very young age — often diluted with water and used in a very different way,” she said.
“The dominate culture in Australia and our relationship with alcohol is very, very different to say, growing up in an Italian family or a French family, where important things such as intoxication are absolutely frowned upon.
“Whereas intoxication around alcohol is not only the norm in many instances … it is very highly tolerated [in Australia].”
Studies don’t support early introduction
She said recent studies had found young teenagers who had been introduced to alcohol in the family setting “with small sips” by the time they were 16 years old were more likely to be heavier, regular drinkers than children who were not introduced to alcohol.
Professor Roche said a young person’s brain was not fully developed and the frontal lobe that controls judgment and risk assessment developed last.
“The mid-brain, the emotional part of the brain and is driven to take risks and do all sorts of things that gets a boost early on and what you are doing is introducing into the brain alcohol which will impair anybody’s judgement,” she said.
SA Network of Drug and Alcohol Services executive officer Michael White disagreed with the Italy’s wine studies for students because it would promote wine consumption as an “ordinary part of life”.
“Alcohol advertising and promotion is likely to increase the amount of alcohol people will consume,” he said.
He claimed the French were in denial about their relationship with alcohol.
“It’s a different way of drinking — research would show it is not necessarily a better way of drinking,” he said.
“They don’t necessarily drink to serious levels of intoxication but consistent and persistent drinking on a daily basis is not enough alcohol to get you intoxicated but it will still do significant health damage.”