Parental supply of alcohol associated with negative alcohol-related outcomes in adolescents
Parents who supply alcohol to their adolescent children may increase their children’s risk of binge drinking and alcohol-related harm, according to a study from Australia.
“Our study is the first to analyse parental supply of alcohol and its effects in detail in the long term, and finds that it is, in fact, associated with risks when compared to teenagers not given alcohol. This reinforces the fact that alcohol consumption leads to harm, no matter how it is supplied,” said lead author Professor Richard Mattick from the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.
“We advise that parents should avoid supplying alcohol to their teenagers if they wish to reduce their risk of alcohol-related harms,” he said.
Using data from the Australian Parental Supply of Alcohol Longitudinal Study, 1,927 adolescents recruited from secondary schools in Sydney, Hobart, and Perth, Australia (mean age 12.9 years at study initiation) and their parents completed annual questionnaires (independent of each other) on binge drinking and symptoms of alcohol abuse, dependency, use disorder, and alcohol-related harm between 2010 and 2016.
Parental supply of alcohol increased over the 6-year period, with supply from parents alone or parents and others (eg, nonparental adults, friends, siblings, or self-supply) reported by 15 percent of the participants within the first study year rising to 57 percent by study end.
Elevated risk of negative alcohol-related outcomes
Compared with adolescents who were not supplied with alcohol from any source, those who were supplied with alcohol only by their parents were more likely to engage in binge drinking in the previous year (≥4 drinks [containing 10 g alcohol each] on a single occasion; odds ratio [OR], 2.58, 95 percent confidence interval [CI], 1.96–3.41; p<0.0001), exhibit ≥2 symptoms of alcohol use disorder (OR, 2.51, 95 percent CI, 1.46–4.29; p=0.0008), and be exposed to ≥1 alcohol-related harm (OR, 2.53, 95 percent CI, 1.96–3.34; p<0.0001). [Lancet Public Health 2018;doi:10.1016/S2468-2667(17)30240-2]
There was no significant impact of parental supply of alcohol on symptoms of alcohol abuse or dependence compared with no supply, though parental supply was associated with a higher risk of supply from other sources in the following year compared with no parental supply (OR, 2.05).
Adolescents who were supplied with alcohol from other sources only were also more likely to binge drink (OR, 5.58; p<0.0001) and experience alcohol-related harm (OR, 3.46; p<0.0001) or alcohol use disorder (OR, 3.81; p<0.0001), as well as report symptoms of alcohol abuse (OR, 5.30; p<0.0001), or alcohol dependence (OR, 3.01; p=0.0008) compared with those with no supply.
No benefit with parental supply of alcohol
“In many countries, parents are a key provider of alcohol to their children before they are of legal age to purchase alcohol. This practice by parents is intended to protect teenagers from the harms of heavy drinking by introducing them to alcohol carefully,” said Mattick, who highlighted that there is little evidence to support the effectiveness of this method.
“Although other supply was associated with more problems than was parental supply, our study shows that there is no rationale for parents to give alcohol to adolescents younger than the legal purchase age. Parental supply only remains associated with adverse adolescent drinking outcomes, compared with no supply, and a combination of parental and other supply was not associated with lower odds of adverse outcomes than other supply only. Parental supply is [also] associated with increased risk of other supply. Thus, there was no evidence to support the view that parental supply is protective for any of the adolescent drinking-related outcomes,” said Mattick and co-authors.
The researchers acknowledged that the larger proportion of participants from higher socioeconomic backgrounds (49 percent recruited from private independent schools) could have biased the results towards individuals with “higher levels of advantage” than the overall Australian population. The results may also not be generalizable to populations with a lower adolescent consumption of alcohol.
Future research goals
“An important avenue for future research … will be to provide a richer characterization of the mechanisms by which parental supply leads to risky drinking, and to obtaining alcohol from other sources, in later adolescence,” said Professor Stuart Kinner and Dr Rohan Borschmann from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, in a commentary. [Lancet Public Health 2018;doi:10.1016/S2468-2667(18)30006-9]
“In light of evidence that alcohol-related harm is concentrated in groups of lower socioeconomic status, further research with disadvantaged populations is required before these findings can be confidently applied across the social gradient,” they said.