A survey has revealed that “children who see their parents drunk are twice as likely to regularly get drunk themselves,” reported BBC News. Several newspapers also covered this news story.
The reports are of a survey conducted by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, a charity that funds a nationwide research and development programme aimed at better understanding the UK’s social problems and how these can be overcome. As one of its research projects, the foundation conducted this study, published today, which explored the relationship that young people in the UK have with alcohol, and the factors that influence their drinking habits.
The report, called “Young people, alcohol and influences”, presents the findings of a survey of 5,700 teenagers aged 13–14 years old (year 9) and 15–16 (year 11) in schools in England. The study gathered information on the students’ drinking patterns and looked into the wide range of factors that can influence them, such as family, media and the area in which they live. The researcher wanted to get a better understanding of the relative importance of these factors when considering how best to tackle drinking in young people.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation conducted the report with two main aims:
The key findings of the report were:
As indicated above, the majority of teens in years 9 and 11 had had at least one alcoholic drink. In the lower school year, girls were more likely to have had a drink than boys, though the gap closed by the later school year.
Of year 9 students who reported ever drinking alcohol:
Of year 11 students who drank alcohol:
In year 9, 39% of those who drank alcohol in the past week had consumed seven units or more, while in year 11 the same proportion drank 14 units or more. Just over half (54%) of the year 9 teens who had ever had an alcoholic drink reported that they had also been drunk on one or more occasions. Of year 11 drinkers, 79% had ever been drunk, with 52% reporting they had been drunk more than once. Of those who reported ever being drunk, 47% of year 9 and 66% of year 11 students said that they drink with their friends at least once a month with the primary aim of getting drunk.
The report found that year 9 students were most likely to drink alcopops (26% of drinks consumed) or beer or lager (29%), followed by spirits or liqueurs (22%), cider (13%) and wine or similar drinks (10%).
Year 11 students were most likely to drink beer or lager (35%), spirits or liqueurs (25%), followed by alcopops (17%), cider (12%) and wine (11%).
In both year groups, the survey found that those who drank beer and lager drank greater quantities than teens who drank other types of alcoholic drink.
Though family drinking habits and witnessing drunkenness among family members had a strong influence on drinking, the strongest influence on drinking was having friends who drank.
About 75% reported being with an adult when they drank for the first time. However, while both year groups were most likely to have been drinking at home the last time they drank, the proportion was smaller in the older group: 43% of year 9 students were with parents or siblings when they last drank, compared to 34% of year 11 students, who were more likely to have had their last drink with friends (23% compared to 13% in year 9). The less parental or adult supervision that a teen had (for example, parents not knowing where they were on a Saturday night), the more likely they were to have a drink.
For those teens who had not had a drink, lack of interest in alcohol was the main factor identified. A young person’s religion, ethnicity and family values were also likely to predict whether the teen had had a drink.
The main influences of “current” drinking (drinking in the past week) were:
Similar factors influence current excessive drinking, with friends’ levels of drinking having the strongest influence. The risk of excessive drinking increases the more time the person spends with their friends. It is also affected by the age of the friends, with older friends or siblings influencing how easily teenagers could access alcohol. Factors affecting teens’ drunkenness are similar, though being extremely young when they had their first drink (under 6 years old) and witnessing family drunkenness had a very strong influence.
The report says that a young person has about double the odds of getting drunk multiple times if they have ever witnessed their parents drunk, compared with never seeing this (odds ratio 1.88, no confidence interval given).
This report concludes that, though drinking among young people is not inevitable, a large proportion of teenagers do drink alcohol. The researchers consider that there is little benefit from policies aiming to prevent young people from trying alcohol, but that they should instead focus on preventing immediate and longer-term effects of drinking alcohol.
The report highlights the strongest influences on current, excessive and risky drinking, and says that the new government alcohol strategy offers the opportunity to set out a strong central policy and give a clear message to parents, local policy-makers and frontline services. The authors suggest that the best way of improving drinking behaviour could be to support and educate parents, giving them positive messages about how they can influence their child’s behaviour. They also stress the importance of the parents' own drinking and how this affects their child’s perception of alcohol. Schools can also play an important role in challenging incorrect perceptions about the frequency and scale of heavy drinking among young people, providing information and getting targeted messages to parents.
Live well: drinking and alcohol
Alcohol Concern: supporting problem drinking parents
Alcohol Concern: making sense of alcohol