An authoritative new study shows that 5.9 percent of adolescents aged 12 to 14 drank alcohol in the past month. The vast majority of them (93.4 percent) received their alcohol for free the last time they drank. Almost half of those (44.8 percent) got their alcohol for free from their family or at home, including 15.7 percent who were provided alcohol for free by their parents or guardians.
The study, conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), does not define how much alcohol was consumed: a sip, a tasting, a full glass. Nor does the study point fingers or place the data in context: a teen drinking alcohol with a friend or a peer, for example, may not see drinking in the same context as if that teen were being presented a few sips at the dinner table by parents. The study is presented essentially as an alert.
- Alcohol Policy Information System (NIH)
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
- University of Michigan Substance Abuse Research Center and Student Life Survey Site
“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,” SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde, says.
Still, the Wall Street Journal reports today, “some parents think it’s inevitable that teenagers will experiment with alcohol and worry that a message of abstinence doesn’t stand a chance against a barrage of social pressures and media messages glamorizing drinking. By the time they turn 21, 86% of American youths have used alcohol, according to the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, and 50% are binge drinking, defined as having five or more drinks in a single session for men, and four or more for women. If teens don’t learn to drink responsibly at home, some parents fear they will learn on their own, in a club or private party, where there are few restraints.”
In an online poll, the Journal asked this question: Should parents allow teens to taste alcohol, in hopes of demystifying it? By an overwhelming 87.5 percent, respondents said yes.
There’s little question that relatively heavy drinking in youths, such as 20 drinks a month or more, alters brain development. Not so when the drinking is more moderate. “Indeed,” the Journal continued, “experts say more research is needed to understand what puts young people at risk for alcohol abuse in later years and what strategies are best to discourage it. In the meantime, some parents remain stumped about what to say to their children about alcohol. Several studies have found that parents who are authoritative—communicating expectations with a give-and-take style with their children—are more effective at keeping them from alcohol abuse than those who are authoritarian, permissive or disengaged. What’s often lost in the discussions is that many teens are not regular drinkers. In a national survey of 500,000 students starting college last summer, 70% of youths aged 12 to 20 haven’t had a drink in the last month.”
Perspective, in other words, and moderation–even in application of judgments and data, not just in drinking–matter.
What do you think?