Moms and Dads who Offer their Kids a Sip of their Drink Send Wrong Message, Study Finds

Researchers found that kids who had tastes of an alcoholic beverage before they started 6th grade were five times more likely to have a full drink by 9th grade, compared with their classmates who had not tasted alcohol, a new study suggested.

These "early sippers" were also four times more likely to get drunk or binge drink by their first semester of high school compared with their peers who abstained, the study showed.

Although there is a social norm that sipping alcohol at a young age may be an underage drinking prevention strategy, the study showed that such sipping is actually associated with an increased risk of drinking, as well as using other substances, by the time kids enter high school, said study senior author Kristina Jackson, associate professor (research) of behavioral and social sciences in the Brown University School of Public Health and at the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies.

The research disputed the popular belief of what study authors called the "European approach," of exposing children to alcohol at a young age in hopes that this will protect kids against subsequent drinking because it makes drinking seem less taboo.

The study shows that early sipping is not necessarily harmless, Jackson told website Live Science, noting that although alcohol problems among teens may be lower in some Southern European countries, that's not the case in Great Britain, Ireland or Northern European countries.

The study looked at data collected from more than 500 middle-school students in Rhode Island, who were tracked during a three-year period, from the time they started sixth grade until they began their freshman year of high school. The kids were surveyed several times a year about their use of alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and other drugs, according to the study, which was recently published online in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

The results showed that by sixth grade nearly 30 percent of kids had tasted alcohol that was not part of a religious celebration, and they typically had this first sip by age 7. Most of these first sips were of wine or beer, and originated from parents offering their kids a taste of their drink at home.

By the time they got to ninth grade, about 26 percent of the early sippers had consumed a full drink, and about 9 percent had gotten drunk. In comparison, among their non-sipping peers, 6 percent had consumed a full drink and 2 percent had gotten drunk, according to the study.  

But the study findings should encourage parents to be clear and consistent with children that alcohol is not for them, she said in a news release, including keeping it out of their reach around and beyond the home.

Nancy Barnett, Suzanne Colby, and Michelle Rogers are co-authors of the study, which was funded by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

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