While friends play a critical role in peer drinking habits, family has a strong direct and indirect influence. The parent or guardian has a particularly strong influence on their child’s behavior. This ranges from the point at which alcohol is introduced, to exposure to adult drinking and drunkenness, to the amount of supervision placed on a young person (such as knowing where their child is on a Saturday evening or how many evenings their child spends with friends).

A new 91 page report released this week by The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, United Kingdom delves deeper into this issue. (see below for link to full report)

There are critical points where a carefully timed intervention could generate a positive outcome by reducing the likelihood that a young person will drink frequently and drink to excess. These interventions require co-ordination at a national, local and frontline level involving families, schools and support.

Claire Turner, from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said:

“This research shows that parents can have more influence on their teenagers’ behavior than perhaps many assumed. Both what parents say and how they behave have a strong impact on their teenagers’ drinking, drinking regularly and drinking to excess.”

In fact, more often parents are giving their children alcohol. In total, 30% of the liquor being drunk by under aged youth is provided by adults or relatives. Some 709,000 youngsters aged 12 to 14 in the United States are drinking beer, liquor and other alcoholic beverages, a new federal study found. Drinking as a youth is a gateway to potentially lifelong alcoholism.

On the other side of the pond, U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Administrator Pamela S. Hyde, J.D. said:

“People who begin drinking alcohol before the age of 15 are six times more likely than those who start at age 21 and older to develop alcohol problems. Parents and other adults need to be aware that providing alcohol to children can expose them to an increased risk for alcohol abuse and set them on a path with increased potential for addiction.”

In the past month alone, more than 200,000 kids were given alcohol by a parent or other adult family member, according to a report from SAMHSA.

Peter Delany, director of SAMHSA’s Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality continues:

“About 5.9% of 12- to 14-year-olds have used alcohol in the past month. That’s a pretty large number. And almost all of these kids got that alcohol for free. Anecdotally, parents say, ‘Well, at least they are drinking at home and not on the street, or at least they are not smoking marijuana’ — all kind of silly things. If you want to have a big impact on preventing problems with youth alcohol use, it starts at home. This is a wholly preventable behavior.”

In fact, about 45% got alcohol from a parent or other family member or they took it from their home without permission, Delany added. About 15% of these kids just took the liquor, but 15.7% got it directly from that parent or guardian and another 14% got it from another relative.

Dr. Gwen Wurm, an assistant professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine adds:

“This is something we have known: kids do get their alcohol at home. As parents we need to guide our children into the kind of appropriate choices they can be making.”

2003, the average age of first use of alcohol was about 14, compared to about 17.5 in 1965. People who reported starting to drink before the age of 15 were four times more likely to also report meeting the criteria for alcohol dependence at some point in their lives.

As children move from adolescence to young adulthood, they encounter dramatic physical, emotional, and lifestyle changes. Developmental transitions, such as puberty and increasing independence, have been associated with alcohol use. So in a sense, just being an adolescent may be a key risk factor not only for starting to drink but also for drinking dangerously.

A major unmet need exists in the treatment of alcohol use disorders. In 2002, 1.4 million youth met the criteria for alcohol abuse or dependence, but only 227,000 actually received any treatment for these problems.

Moreover, much of the treatment available today does not address the specific needs of adolescents. For example, most young people prefer easy access to treatment, with strategies tailored to their age group, and treatments that do not remove them from their home or academic settings. Youth perceive traditional services (e.g., alcoholism treatment programs, Alcoholics Anonymous) as less helpful than brief interventions tailored to their concerns. Consequently, alternative formats, attention to developmental transitions, and social marketing are needed to better address alcohol problems that emerge during adolescence.

The English report continues:

“The findings suggest that efforts to improve drinking behavior among young people at a national policy level are best directed at supporting and educating parents. This should include positive messages for parents about how they can influence their child’s behavior and stress the importance of parents’ own drinking and what their children see and think about this. Friends are another key area of influence. Schools could help here by challenging incorrect perceptions about the regularity and scale of heavy drinking by peer groups. Schools could also be a channel for information, getting targeted messages to parents encouraging actions at specific times in their child’s development.”

For the full Joseph Rowntree Foundation report, click HERE.

Sources: The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and The Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Written by Sy Kraft