Allowing your children to drink at home 'could be putting them at risk of alcoholism'
Teenagers who first drank at 15 were more at risk of alcohol problems later in life than those who started at 17

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UPDATED:

08:42 GMT, 16 August 2012

Parents who introduce their children to alcohol before they turn 18 could be putting them at risk of developing alcoholism later in life.

Many adults believe following the Continental model of allowing their children to have a tipple at home under supervision is a good way to promote responsible drinking.

However, a study from Yale University has found the younger people are when they have their first drink, the more likely they are to drink heavily as adults with all the health consequences.

The researchers said they would recommend delaying the onset of any drinking for as long as possible

The researchers said they would recommend delaying the onset of any drinking for as long as possible

Lead author Meghan Morean and her team examined 1,160
students who moved from high school to university (college) over a four-year period. The participants filled in questionnaires about when they first started drinking, how frequently they drank heavily and any alcohol-related problems they had.

They found the earlier a teenager tried alcohol, the more likely they would be struggling to control how much they drank at university.

Morean said: 'As expected, beginning to use alcohol
at an earlier age was associated with heavier drinking and the
experience of more negative consequences during senior year of college.

'Quickly progressing from first alcohol use to drinking to
intoxication was also an important predictor of heavy drinking and the
experience of alcohol related problems during senior year of college.

'For example, an adolescent who consumed his first drink at age 15 was at
greater risk for heavy drinking and problems than an adolescent who
took his first drink at age 17.

'Further, an adolescent who took his
first drink at age 15 and also drank to intoxication at age 15 was at
greater risk for heavy drinking and problems than an adolescent who had
his first drink at age 15 and did not drink to the point of intoxication
until he was 17.'

Morean said previous studies had found the same link between an early age of first drink and negative alcohol-related outcomes including compromised brain development, drug abuse, cirrhosis of the liver and risky sexual behaviours.

However, she said that while there is a clear association, more research is needed to see if drinking early directly causes the negative outcomes.

Either way, she recommends teenagers to delay early drinking.

'The best way to prevent heavy drinking
and the experience of alcohol-related problems is to prevent alcohol
use,' she said.

'Therefore, our first recommendation would be to
delay the onset of any alcohol use as long as possible.'

She added: 'It is important to speak to children
and adolescents openly about the dangers of heavy drinking and provide
them with correct information, for example, 'how many drinks does an
average male/female need to drink to exceed the legal level for
intoxication.

'It is also extremely important to
remember that heavy drinking during adolescence and early adulthood is
not confined to college campuses.

'Most adolescents begin drinking during
high school, a significant portion of whom begin drinking heavily. To
help address this, we suggest that new alcohol prevention and
intervention efforts targeting high school students be developed with
the goal of delaying onset of heavy drinking among those at increased
risk due to an early onset of drinking.'

The minimum age for buying alcohol in the UK is 18, although a child can drink between the age of 5 and 17 at home with a guardian's permission.

The minimum age for buying alcohol in the U.S is 21. Whether a child can drink at home under this age varies from state to state.

Results of the study will be published in the November 2012 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.