Parental provision of alcohol is associated with risk for, not protection from, alcohol-related harms and alcohol use disorder, according to the results of a prospective cohort study published in The Lancet Public Health.1

Some parents supply alcohol to their children with the belief that doing so will reduce the harm associated with drinking. However, alcohol consumption is the leading risk factor for death and disability among young people age 15 to 24 years globally.

Richard P. Mattick, PhD, professor at the National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre, University of New South Wales, in Sydney, Australia, and colleagues explored the question of whether parental supply reduces risk using data from the Australian Parental Supply of Alcohol Longitudinal Study cohort of adolescents. 

Investigators recruited children in grade 7 and their parents between 2010 and 2011 from secondary schools in Sydney, Perth, and Hobart, Australia. Participants were surveyed annually between 2010 and 2016. A total of 1927 eligible parents and adolescents (mean age 12.9 years) took part.

Binge drinking and alcohol-related harms increased over the course of the study. Adolescents who were supplied alcohol only by their parents had higher odds of subsequent binge drinking (odds ratio [OR] 2.58; 95% CI, 1.96-3.41; P <.0001), alcohol-related harm (OR 2.53; 95% CI, 1.99-3.24; P <.0001), and symptoms of alcohol use disorder (OR 2.51; 95% CI, 1.96-4.29 P =.0008) than did those adolescents reporting no supply. However, parental alcohol supply was not significantly associated with the odds of reporting symptoms of either alcohol abuse or dependence compared with no supply from any source. 

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Supply of alcohol from other sources was significantly associated with risk for all adverse outcomes compared with no supply, with an even greater increased risk for adverse outcomes.

The authors noted a number of study limitations. The study cohort was not a random sample from the population but a group who agreed to participate. Populations of low socioeconomic status were underrepresented, suggesting that the generalizability of the study results may be limited. Finally, the measure of symptoms of abuse, dependence, and alcohol use disorder were self-reported by participants.

Dr Mattick and colleagues wrote, “[T]he levels of reported symptoms of abuse and dependence in this cohort are very similar to the levels of alcohol use disorders found in community samples of young adults in Australia and other high-income countries.”

The authors concluded that there was no evidence of any benefit or protective effect conferred by parents supplying alcohol to their children. In fact, the reverse was found to be true.

In an accompanying comment examining the limits of the study, authors Stuart A Kinner, PhD, and Rohan Borschmann, PhD, of the Centre for Adolescent Health at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Royal Children’s Hospital, in Melbourne, Australia, wrote that, “An important avenue for future research — perhaps combining quantitative and qualitative methods — 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.”2

References

  1. Mattick RP, Clare PH, Aiken A, et al. Association of parental supply of alcohol with adolescent drinking, alcohol-related harms, and alcohol use disorder symptoms: a prospective cohort study [published online January 25, 2018]. Lancet Public Health. doi: 10.1016/S2468-2667(17)30240-2
  2. Kinner SA Borschmann R. Parental supply and alcohol-related harm in adolescence: emerging but incomplete evidence [published online January 25, 2018]. Lancet Public Health. doi:10.1016/S2468-2667(18)30006-9.