Harm Reduction? Hardly

Parents Who Supply Alcohol to Their Adolescent Children Increase the Likelihood of Substance Use Disorder and Other Harms

Supplying alcohol to their adolescent children is not associated with any reduction of harm. Quite the opposite—parents who allow and support adolescent drinking actually increased their risk of incurring alcohol-related harm. Further, the myth that parental supply of alcohol, or supervision of alcohol consumption will teach adolescents how to drink responsibly is just that—a myth.

Recently, Mattick, et al, conducted a prospective study using data culled from the Australian Parental Supply of Alcohol Longitudinal Study of adolescents to examine correlations between parental supply of alcohol and subsequent drinking outcomes over the 6-year period of adolescence. Children in grade seven and their parents were recruited and surveyed annually. In total, 1927 eligible parents and adolescents were recruited by June of 2011 and were followed until 2016.

The researchers found that the odds of subsequent binge consumption, alcohol-related harm and symptoms of alcohol-use disorder were increased for adolescents who were supplied alcohol only by parents (odds ratios, 2.58, 2.53, and 2.51, respectively) when compared with parents who did not supply alcohol to their children.

In this prospective study, associations between both parental supply of alcohol and supply from other sources, and after adjusting for known covariates, revealed pattern of harm associated with parental supply. By the sixth follow-up (mean age 17·8 years), parental supply of alcohol was found to be associated with binge drinking, alcohol-related harm, and symptoms of alcohol use disorder. The findings also revealed that parental supply not only increases adverse outcomes itself, it also risks increasing obtaining alcohol from other non-parental sources.

Plainly stated, there is no evidence to support the view that parents who supply alcohol to their teens protect them from adverse drinking outcomes. The authors write. “Parents should be advised that this practice is associated with risk, both directly and indirectly through increased access to alcohol from other sources.”

Why Does This Matter?

Substance use disorders, depression and suicidality are bi-directionally related and increasing among U.S. adolescents and associated with increased morbidity and mortality—specifically in “years of potential life lost”. Parents who engage in this practice, hoping to reduce harm, are in fact increasing their children’s risk for serious alcohol related consequences. Pediatricians and family practice physicians can play an important role in reducing this risk by educating parents on the risks of supplying alcohol to their children.


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Mattick RP, Clare PJ, 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 24, 2018]. Lancet Public Health. doi:10.1016/S2468-2667(17)30240-2