Parents who let their teens experiment with alcohol at home may think they’re doing a good thing. After all, their children won’t be on the road and will be under adult supervision.
But a recent study suggests the approach may cause more harm than good.
Teens who are exposed to alcohol in the home aren’t absolved of the dangers of alcohol and may even be more likely to face alcohol-related problems, suggests a study published in Lancet Public Health that tracked 1,900 adolescents over six years.
The study compared outcomes among children who had no supply of alcohol versus those who were allowed to consume it at home by their parents.
Children who were provided alcohol by their parents were more likely to binge drink, experience alcohol-related harm and more likely to report symptoms of alcohol addiction. The children were also more likely to pursue alcohol from other sources, further increasing alcohol-associated risks.
“Letting teens drink in the home is an interesting concept – I don’t think it works at all,” says Dr. Victor Archambeau, a family medicine physician at Tidelands Health Family Medicine at Pawleys Island. “One of the main concerns with that approach is that it implies parents accept underage drinking and encourage it.”
Archambeau, who overcame a problem with substance abuse and hasn’t used alcohol or other substances in 25 years, started 10 years ago to actively incorporate substance abuse recovery into his own family practice. Other physicians regularly refer patients with substance-abuse concerns to Archambeau.
Because of his own experience, he’s able to relate to substance-abuse patients on a personal level, he says.
A primary reason that parents should not condone drinking for teens is related to brain development. Archambeau says recent studies have shown that brain development is not complete until a person is well into their 20s. Sometime around age 25 is when alcohol or drug use will have the least permanent effect on the brain, he notes.
“An 18-year-old doesn’t think very much like a 28-year-old,” he says. “But a 28-year-old thinks a lot like a 38-year-old.”
Archambeau says the idea that a teen can be taught to drink responsibly by allowing them to drink under adult supervision is flawed, particularly for those –about 8-10 percent of the population—who may have a genetic predisposition to addiction or who may be influenced by other factors, such as childhood trauma, depression or sexual abuse.
Instead of letting teens drink at home, Archambeau advises modeling good behavior.
“By not drinking yourself or being responsible with your drinking, you help instill responsibility in your children,” he says. “Setting a good example for children is essential.”
He also recommends starting with your child an ongoing, age-appropriate conversation about alcohol and drug use.
“Talk with them honestly and openly about it,” he says. “Let them know you’re a resource for them.”
If a parent suspects a child has a problem with alcohol or other substances, Archambeau says there is help.
“There are recovery meetings for teens if the teens are interested in taking part,” he says.
In addition, groups such Al-Anon can provide support to parents who have a child coping with addiction.
Dr. Victor Archambeau
Family Medicine Physician, Tidelands Health Family Medicine at Pawleys Island
Tidelands Health family medicine physician Dr. Victor Archambeau provides care at Tidelands Health Family Medicine at Pawleys Island.Learn More
- University of South Carolina School of Medicine
- McLeod Regional Medical Center
- American Board of Family Medicine
Meet the Expert
Dr. Victor Archambeau
Tidelands Health family medicine physician Dr. Victor Archambeau provides care at Tidelands Health Family Medicine at Pawleys Island.