Page last updated: March 20, 2017

Parental supply of alcohol and alcohol consumption in adolescence

Children and teens who are given alcohol by their parents are much more likely to be drinking full serves of alcohol by age 15 or 16, but less likely to binge drink, according to a UNSW study which followed nearly 2,000 children and their parents over four years from Year 7 onwards. Lead author of the study published in the British Journal Psychological Medicine, UNSW Professor Richard Mattick, a Principal NHMRC Research Fellow at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, said the study was prompted by widespread interest in the ‘European model’ of introducing children to alcohol, whereby children are offered sips of alcohol by their parents from a young age, a practise some people believe to be protective of later harmful drinking.

A cohort of 1927 adolescents was surveyed annually from 2010 to 2014. Measures included consumption of whole drinks; binge drinking (>4 standard drinks on any occasion); parental supply of alcohol; supply from other sources; child, parent, family and peer covariates. A number of other factors that earlier studies have found are associated with adolescent drinking (e.g. family alcohol use, family structure, family conflict, and individual personality traits, such as anxiety, negative thinking and aggressive behaviours) were taken into account in the results analysis.

After adjustment, adolescents supplied alcohol by parents had higher odds of drinking whole beverages [odds ratio (OR) 1.80, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.33–2.45] than those not supplied by parents. However, parental supply was not associated with bingeing, and those supplied alcohol by parents typically consumed fewer drinks per occasion (incidence rate ratio 0.86, 95% CI 0.77–0.96) than adolescents supplied only from other sources. Adolescents obtaining alcohol from non-parental sources had increased odds of drinking whole beverages (OR 2.53, 95% CI 1.86–3.45) and bingeing (OR 3.51, 95% CI 2.53–4.87). Those children who got alcohol from sources other than their parents were three times more likely to binge drink. As well as being less likely to binge, the adolescents given alcohol by their parents also typically drank less on any drinking occasion than those supplied by their peers or others.

The personality traits of the child also impacted on how influential parental supply was to future drinking patterns. Those children who show personality traits such as aggression and truanting were likely to obtain alcohol whether their parents supplied it or not. As well and independent of parental supply, the study found that certain family and peer factors reduced the odds of drinking, such as parental monitoring, consistent parenting, being religious and peer disapproval of drinking and smoking. Children were more likely to drink and to binge drink when their peers drank and when they displayed behaviours such as aggression.

Source: Parental supply of alcohol and alcohol consumption in adolescence: prospective cohort study. RP Mattick, M Wadolowski, A Aiken, PJ Clare, D Hutchinson, J Najman, T Slade, R Bruno, N McBride, L Degenhardt, & K Kypri. (2016). Psychological Medicine, January 2017.


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