Alcohol At Home Can Cut Teenage Binge Drinking

Teenagers who drink alcohol with their parents are less likely to binge drink, according to a survey of 10,000 children which backs the continental style of introducing teenagers to small amounts of alcohol early.

{mosimage}Parents who do not want their children drinking behind their backs should limit their pocket money to less than £10 a week, says the study, carried out by academics and trading standards officers.

It found that teenagers who illegally bought their own alcohol were six times as likely to drink in public, in parks and on the streets, three times as likely to be regular drinkers and twice as likely to be binge drinkers.

Mark Bellis, the lead researcher and director of the public health centre at Liverpool John Moores University, said: “We are too used to handing £10 or £20 to young people without any realisation of where it is being spent. Add to that birthday money and money from part-time jobs – young people have money to spend. Parents need to know more about what their children are spending it on.”

The report calls on the government to force the alcohol industry to stop marketing to teenagers and to crack down on shops selling to underage teenagers. Some 40% of the 15- and 16-year-olds polled who reported that they drank said they bought their own alcohol.

The survey was carried out in more than 130 schools in the north-west of England by trading standards officers. More than 10,000 questionnaires were returned by pupils aged 15 and 16. The results suggest that girls from the most socially deprived areas who received the most weekly pocket money were the most likely to drink irresponsibly – defined as more than twice a week, five units at a time and in public spaces.

Nearly 90% drank at least once every six months. Some 40% of those binged regularly, a quarter drank frequently and half drank in public. Those who were most at risk, who did all three, were most likely to buy the alcohol themselves or through an older sibling or friend. People who drank with their parents, and received less than £10 pocket money a week, exhibited the safest behaviour.

Other research has shown that the worst problems associated with teenage drinking happen when it takes place in public, in contrast with France and Italy, where young people typically first drink at mealtimes with their parents.

Today’s findings contrast sharply with a recent call from Alcohol Concern to prosecute parents who give their under-15s alcohol. Professor Bellis said that this evidence showed that approach was flawed. “I don’t think prosecuting parents is the way forward. It’s possibly the worst thing you can do to a child at that stage.”

A spokesman for Alcohol Concern said: “The drinks industry has a major role to play in cutting down alcohol purchasing by underaged drinkers.”

A Department of Health spokesperson said alcohol sales to under-18s were decreasing. “We are working closely with the industry to encourage the responsible sale of alcohol. In 2005, restrictions on alcohol advertising on TV were tightened.”