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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Letting Teenagers Drink Leads to More Drinking

In the United States, we view the use of alcohol by teenagers different than they do in Europe. Our approach is that it is against the law for people under the age of 21 to consume alcohol, whereas in Europe the legal drinking age is 18, but minors can legally drink alcohol with parents or friends as long as it is provided free of charge. The European modality is based on the idea that teens can learn to drink responsibly through parental guidance, and that making less of deal about alcohol will deter use by de-mystifying the substance. However, while that mode of thinking may work for some, it turns out that in many cases the European mindset can have the opposite effect.

New research suggests that middle-class parents who allow their children to use alcohol are not protecting them from becoming problem drinkers, The Guardian reports. What’s more, teenagers who come from more affluent families were twice as likely to regularly consume alcohol, compared to teenagers from poorer backgrounds. The findings are important because regular alcohol use during the teenage years increases the risk of problematic use in adulthood - potentially leading to a substance use disorder.

The findings come from a study of 120,000 teens published by the Health and Social Care Information Centre. The researchers found that around 70% of 15-year-olds from affluent backgrounds had tried alcohol, according to the article. The findings showed that approximately half of 15-year olds from deprived backgrounds had tried alcohol. Teenagers from wealthy families were more likely to continue drinking after first trying alcohol.

Teenage use of alcohol can have lasting effects on the brain, and limit one’s potential in life. The brains of teenagers are still developing, and parents should not underestimate the potential damage alcohol can cause, says Dr Sarah Jarvis, medical adviser to the alcohol education charity, Drinkaware.

“Alcohol can harm young people while they are still developing, which is why the UK chief medical officers say an alcohol-free childhood is the best option,” said Jarvis. “Young people’s brains are still developing, and they may be more vulnerable to long-term effects on brain and educational achievement than adults, even if they drink within government-recommended upper limits for adults.”

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