The results of a number of studies have revealed that underage drinking with parents can lower the risk of heavy consumption. However, Norwegian researchers say that these results don’t give a complete picture.
Health authorities have advised parents against giving alcohol to minors, and rightfully so. Some research studies have discovered a link between underage teens being allowed to try some alcohol with their parents with a lower risk of developing harmful alcohol consumption patterns later in life, but is that really true?
Study Results Vary, Depending on Data Gathering Method
Which one is right? Drug and alcohol researchers Hilde Elisabeth Pape and Elin Bye at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health point out that there is a problem with some of the research that has been conducted to date. They say some of the questions have not been clear enough when distinguishing between different kinds of drinking with parents.
One study which found that drinking with parents had a harm-reducing result asked the question, “Was the latest drinking episode together with your parents?” It didn’t ask how often these drinking episodes occurred.
Pape’s work was published in Nordic Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. In it, a number of questions were asked, and the responses led to more detailed information. For example, “How many times during the past 12 months have you been drinking with your parents?” The 15 and 16-year-olds were also asked, “Did you drink with your parents the last time you drank alcohol?”
The answer to the first question determined the effect of drinking with parents. The second one gave the researchers a more complete understanding the situation than previous studies.
More Precise Data Gathering Leads to “Striking” Results
According to Pape, the study results were “striking.” Drinking with one or both parents twice or more within the past year placed teens at a “highly increased risk” of high consumption levels of alcohol and extreme intoxication. Pape also stated that parents who drink with their children “appear to be less intervening and caring than other parents.”
The results of an earlier study found that these parents stood out because they tended to drink quite heavily themselves.
When researchers considered answers to the questions about whom they had been drinking with during their last episode, it could appear as though drinking with parents had a positive influence. The results showed a clear association between a young person having their last drinking session with a parent and drinking less. It appears that drinking with parents leads to lower drinking levels. Unfortunately, this result is misleading.
Drinking with a parent could reflect a situation where a young person had a glass of champagne at a family celebration. The research only tracks a teen’s behavior as a snapshot; it doesn’t do a very good job of monitoring behavior over time.
What this study shows backs up common sense, that more frequent alcohol consumption allowed by parents seems to be an act of endorsing the behavior. Most experts recommend reinforcing responsible drinking patterns as adults, with abstinence being the best choice.