Parents, take note! Children who are allowed occasional sips of alcohol are more likely to start drinking by the time they are in high school, a new study has warned.
Researchers found that, of 561 students in a long-term study, those who had “sipped” alcohol by sixth grade were five times more likely than their peers to down a full drink by the time they were in high school.
They were also four times more likely to have binged or been drunk.
The findings do not prove that early sips of alcohol are to blame, said lead researcher Kristina Jackson, of the Centre for Alcohol and Addiction Studies at Brown University in Providence.
“We’re not trying to say whether it’s ‘OK’ or ‘not OK’ for parents to allow this,” Jackson said.
Still, she noted, some parents do believe in the “European model” – the idea that introducing kids to alcohol early, at home, will teach them about responsible drinking and lessen the “taboo” appeal of alcohol.
“Our study provides evidence to the contrary,” Jackson said.
The findings are based on 561 Rhode Island middle school students who were surveyed periodically over three years. At the beginning of sixth grade (around age 11), almost 30 per cent of students said they had sipped alcohol.
In most cases, their parents provided it – often at a party or other special occasion.
By ninth grade, 26 per cent of those early “sippers” said they had a full alcoholic drink, versus less than 6 per cent of their peers.
As many as 9 per cent had either gotten drunk or binged -compared with just under 2 per cent of “nonsippers.”
There are many factors that influence underage drinking, Jackson noted.
Her team tried to account for as many of those factors as they could – including parents’ drinking habits and any history of alcoholism, as well as kids’ disposition (such as whether they tended to be impulsive and risk taking in general).
Even then, Jackson said, there was still a connection between early sipping and risky drinking by high school.
According to Jackson, it is possible that those little tastes of alcohol send young kids a “mixed message.”
“At that age, some kids may have difficulty understanding the difference between a sip of wine and having a full beer,” she said.
The findings highlight the importance of giving kids “clear, consistent messages” about drinking and making sure they cannot get a hold of any alcohol kept in the house.
The research was published in Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.