Should we give our kids alcohol sooner rather than later?

A new study says it might reduce binge drinking.

Children introduced to alcohol by their parents are less likely to binge drink than their friends, but might be twice as likely to be drinking full serves of alcohol by the time they are 15, according to a new study out of Australia.

Analysing nearly 2,000 Year 7 students (equivalent to Year 8 in New Zealand) and their parents from Sydney, Perth and Tasmania over a four-year period, researchers from University of New South Wales (UNSW) measured the teenagers’ consumption of whole drinks, their binge drinking (consuming four or more drinks in one sitting), as well as who supplied them with the alcohol: their parents, friends, or other adults.

The study found that when children were given alcohol from their parents, they were least likely to binge drink.

But what about the long-reported damages that alcohol can have on developing teenage brains? Lead author of this study, UNSW Professor Richard Mattick, says that giving children alcohol at an earlier age could be serve as a preventative measure of kids developing alcohol-related problems later in life.

“There is a body of research indicating the adolescent brain is still developing well into the early 20s and alcohol may interfere with optimum development,” says Professor Mattick, a Principal NHMRC Research Fellow at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, as reported by Medical Xpress.

“But also we know parents want to do the right thing by their children and there has been anecdotal evidence that children introduced to alcohol by their parents, as is common in some European cultures, may be less likely to develop problems with alcohol.”

However, there is one result from the study Professor Mattick can’t ignore: that being given alcohol at an early age by the parents doubled a child’s likelihood of drinking compared their peers.

“There may be later harms that are not yet obvious, and we are aware that early initiation of drinking is strongly associated with later alcohol use problems in adulthood – delay is the best strategy.”

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