PARENTS who believe that following the Continental way of introducing their children to alcohol early as a way of promoting responsible drinking could actually put them at risk of developing alcoholism in later life, a new study has claimed.
Researchers at Yale University said the younger people were when they had their first drink, the more likely they were to suffer alcohol-related problems in high school and at university, and be more prone to drug abuse, liver damage and problematic brain development.
The report belies the belief of many parents who think giving their children watered-down wine from an early age, or allowing them to drink in their mid-teens while being supervised, will teach them the dangers of drinking and encourage them to behave more responsibly with alcohol when they grow up.
Meghan Morean, a post-doctoral fellow in the department of psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine and corresponding author for the study, said: "Beginning to use alcohol at an earlier age was associated with heavier drinking and the experience of more negative consequences during senior years of college.
"Many studies have found relationships between an early AFD (age at first drink) and a range of negative alcohol-related outcomes later in life, including the development of alcohol-use disorders, legal problems like drunk-driving, and health problems like cirrhosis of the liver.
"There is also evidence that beginning to drink at an early age is associated with problems such as compromised brain development and liver damage during adolescence, risky sexual behaviours, poor performance in school, and use of other substances like marijuana and cocaine."
The research involved 1160 first-year college students who had data compiled about their drinking habits from the previous four years. Teenagers had their first drink, on average, at age 14. Those who had started getting drunk at 15 were far more likely to develop problems than those who waited until they were 17, even if they had had their first drink at 15, she said.
However, she said that while having your first drink at a young age is associated with many negative consequences, it is not clear that it directly causes heavy drinking or other negative outcomes.
In 2009, the chief medical officer warned that children under 15 should not drink alcohol and warned that as many as a third of 11 to 15 year olds drank.
A year later, the charity, Alcohol Concern reported that youngsters who drank were a "significant problem" for the United Kingdom and that drinking accounted for 5% of young people's deaths.
In response, the Alcohol Health Alliance UK said parents should realise they were role models and "their behaviour in relation to alcohol has more impact than what they tell their children".
Aric Sigman, who advises the National Health Service on children and drinking, and has written a book about the issue, Alcohol Nation, said parents were too happy to ignore the addictive qualities of alcohol as they would drugs, and said even small amounts of alcohol at a young age could cause addiction. He said: "Britain has been living under a misconception about not becoming addicted to what is a highly addictive substance.
"Those who drink between the ages of 14 and 16 are four times more likely to become alcoholics or experience problems. Aside from any moral argument, this is a purely physiological one.
"Children are very different physiologically to adults in terms of damage to cells and tissue.
"There is a myth that banning your children will turn them into drinkers later.
"It won't, and parents should not be conned into discussing their fears." — Daily Telegraph