Monday, 2 June 2008

Teaching Children How to Control their Alcohol Drinking and Addiction!

Should children be taught how to drink alcohol wisely?

Researchers cannot agree on whether parents showing their children to use alcohol responsible succeed. Research on how parent-enabled binge drinking shapes their children's alcohol behaviour is very contradictory.

The Yes camp has a lot of supportive research for the claim that parents teaching kids the delicate art of 'responsible' drinking is a blessing for them. But the critics of the yes camp and the no camp have equally strong arsenal to counter the main arguments. 

A survey of 6,245 American teens, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health in 2004, discovered that adults play a very important role in teen drinking although in different ways. Teens attending a party with alcohol supplied by a parent were twice as likely to binge drink and twice as likely to become regular drinkers. But teens drinking occasionally with their parents were only one-third as likely to binge and half as likely to become regular drinkers.

Parents usually have two approaches to alcohol usage training:
  1. Small amounts of alcohol drinking under parent supervision
  2. Zero tolerance - no alcohol drinking under any circumstances!

Law enforcement in the USA and some Asian countries takes the second approach while most other countries take the first approach.

Many parents believe that letting their teenagers have alcohol at home makes them responsible drinkers. Research findings (Vorst et al. 2010) show that alcohol permissive parents may have good intentions, but the results may not be what they desire. In a study of 428 Dutch families, researchers discovered that the more their parents allowed them to drink at home, the more they drank outside. Teenagers who drank under parental supervision had a higher risk of getting addiction and alcohol related problems. 

One of the central problems here is not the alcohol itself but the mixed message parents give to the teens while drinking. Children want and expect parents to be parents and not drinking buddies.
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Many governments worry about their younger citizens drinking. The UK government is seriously concerned about young people in the UK consuming alcohol irresponsibly.

UK Government Attitude to Youth Alcohol Consumption

According to BBC reports, the government aim is to reduce drinking and drunken behaviour in public. 

UK Government statistics show that the number of 11 to 15-year-olds drinking regularly had fallen from 28% in 2001 to 21% in 2006. However, average consumption by young people who drank had nearly doubled from 5.3 units in 1990 to 11.4 units in 2006. In this UK government programme, teenagers who habitually carry and consume alcohol in public have to follow anti-social behaviour orders (Asbos) and acceptable behaviour contracts. 

Parents will get guidelines on how much alcohol their children can safely consume, in a bid to encourage teenagers to drink more responsibly. UK Parents who fail to get their children to stop abusing alcohol would be forced to attend parenting courses or face prosecution.

US Government Attitude to Youth Alcohol Consumption

The US approach is very different. According to the US government’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health, “Nearly 7.2 million (19 percent of all youths) were binge drinkers” – that is, having five or more drinks at least once a month. 

The United States is the only Western nation to make drinking illegal until people turn 21, though people can enlist in the army, handle weapons of mass destruction and get killed or kill others in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

In a US survey of teen drinkers, two thirds of those sampled said they got alcohol from family members or friends. Underage drinkers consume 26% of alcohol in Ohio. That's only the second-highest rate of underage consumption in the nation.

Chinese Government Attitude to Alcohol Consumption of Minors

The Chinese government has also banned alcohol sales to minors. They blame that permissive attitudes among parents and teachers have worsened a growing problem with under-age drinking. A quarter of middle-school pupils and up to 80 per cent of high school pupils say they drink alcohol, according to Sun Yunxiao, of the China Youth Research Centre, in a recent article in People's Daily.

Youngsters in India still lag far behind in this. India is 150th among 184 countries in WHO's Global Status Report on Alcohol 2004. Uganda tops this list at 19.5 litres and India a meagre 0,8 litres per head. Figures and reports are not available from Iraq, Iran or Afghanistan.

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Marketing experts argue that advertisements do not target those below the legal drinking age. Research in the US shows that when a total ban on advertising was introduced, consumption levels did not change.

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So what can governments do to tackle irresponsible underage drinking? Do you have any suggestions?

Additional resources: 
  • Donovan, John E. Adolescent Alcohol Initiation: A review of Psychological Risk Factors. Journal of Adolescent Health 2004; 35:529.e7-529.e18 accessed from
  • van der Vorst, H., Engels, R. C. M. E., & Burk, W. J. Do parents and best friends influence the normative increase in adolescents' alcohol use at home and outside the home? Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 2010; 71 (1): 105-114


Winedrinker said...

Good points. The best way is to teach children responsible ways of handling alcohol, as an accompaniment with food etc. If it's made forbidden, the attraction is much higher.

Jonathan DeSilva said...

Alcohol drinking among the minors is a social problem only in the rich wasp areas but never in Asian or Latin American countries. Lack of parental involvement and control is to blame, not government policies.

Rana Sinha said...

Thanks Winedrinker and Jonathan for your comments.