Study shows letting kids taste alcohol is a risky behavior

February 20, 2018 by Bert Gambini, University at Buffalo
Study shows letting kids taste alcohol is a risky behavior
Credit: University at Buffalo

Parents who allow their young children to occasionally sip and taste alcohol may be contributing to an increased risk for alcohol use and related problems when those kids reach late adolescence, according to a new study by a University at Buffalo psychologist.

The findings contradict the common belief that letting kids sip and taste alcoholic drinks is harmless, and might even help to promote later in life.

But these beliefs run counter to new findings which appear in the journal Addictive Behaviors, according to the study's lead author, Craig Colder, a professor in UB's Department of Psychology.

Colder says the sipping alcohol with adult supervision in childhood, so often viewed as innocuous, can be harmful when kids get older and age into peak periods of .

"Early sipping and tasting is predicting increased in young adulthood," says Colder. "Sipping and tasting alcohol in childhood with adult permission is associated with more frequent drinking and an additional drink per drinking episode.

"It's not only how often they're drinking and how much they're drinking in late adolescence, but the negative consequences related to drinking increase as well, like being hungover, getting into trouble, arguing and fighting."

Roughly a third of all children before the age of 12 will taste alcohol with their parent's permission.  Though common in practice, that sipping and tasting still happens infrequently, perhaps four or five times a year.

"If I say a kid sips or tastes an alcohol drink a couple of times a year, few people would bat an eyelash," says Colder. "But the data strongly suggest that such infrequent tasting in early childhood is not a benign behavior."

In fact, Colder says, his findings support educational interventions already developed by other researchers to reduce sipping and tasting among children.

Early sipping represents what is often a child's first direct experience with drinking, yet little research has examined the long-term impact of this behavior,  in part because most studies do not measure early sipping and tasting alcohol with parental permission.

"Alcohol use without parental permission is typically initiated around age 13 or 14," says Colder. "The early sipping measured in this study was prior to age 13, before most kids initiate alcohol use without ."

Colder, who conducted the research with co-authors Kathleen Shyhalla, a UB research assistant, and Seth Frndak, a graduate student at the university, annually interviewed two demographically representative community samples, each consisting of approximately 380 families, for seven years. He says the data clearly show that these were average kids who were not growing up in problem families, yet these kids who engaged in early sipping and tasting were embedded in a social context that supports drinking.

Colder says there is no evidence that the sipping and tasting that occurred within the two samples was in any way related to deficient parenting and or poor functioning. It was limited to what he calls -specific socialization.

"These are not alcoholic families, but families that have more laissez-faire attitudes about underage drinking. The kids are also interacting with peers that have pro-drinking attitudes. We know that," he says. "When we statistically control for these contexts, this early sipping and tasting behavior is still predictive of these long-term outcomes."

Explore further: Young children's sipping/tasting of alcohol reflects parental modeling

Related Stories

Young children's sipping/tasting of alcohol reflects parental modeling

August 26, 2014
Previous research had determined that whether or not a child sips or tastes alcohol is associated with the child's attitude toward sipping and with a family environment supportive of alcohol use. This study extends this former ...

Alcohol warnings from parents matter

January 8, 2015
Parenting practices and restrictions when it comes to alcohol use can make a difference with adolescent drinking, and there is considerable value to consistent and sustained parental attitudes about drinking, according to ...

First sips of alcohol start in second grade

June 19, 2013
The age at which many children in the U.S. take their first sip of alcohol is surprisingly young, finds a new study in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Kids allowed to 'sip' alcohol may start drinking earlier

March 31, 2015
Children who get a taste of their parents' wine now and then may be more likely than their peers to start drinking by high school, according to a new report in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

Why some mothers (wrongly) let kids try alcohol

September 26, 2012
(HealthDay)—Many parents wrongly believe that allowing young children to taste alcohol may discourage them from drinking when they're teens, a new study finds.

Recommended for you

New research finds drug for alcohol use disorder ineffective

February 26, 2018
A new study, published in the Addiction journal, conducted by researchers from the University of Liverpool highlights the ineffectiveness of a specific drug treatment for alcohol use disorders.

Most PA students tobacco-free, but vaping and cigarette use still a concern

February 26, 2018
Most of Pennsylvania's high school and middle school students are tobacco-free, but the use of cigarettes, and their digital counterpart, e-cigarettes, is still a cause for concern, according to Penn State researchers.

Cannabinoids are easier on the brain than booze, study finds

February 9, 2018
Marijuana may not be as damaging to the brain as previously thought, according to new research from the University of Colorado Boulder and the CU Change Lab.

Marijuana use may not aid patients in opioid addiction treatment

December 4, 2017
Many patients who are being treated for opioid addiction in a medication-assisted treatment clinic use marijuana to help manage their pain and mood symptoms.

For opiate addiction, study finds drug-assisted treatment is more effective than detox

November 23, 2017
Say you're a publicly insured Californian with an addiction to heroin, fentanyl or prescription narcotics, and you want to quit.

Study finds medical cannabis is effective at reducing opioid addiction

November 17, 2017
A new study conducted by researchers at The University of New Mexico, involving medical cannabis and prescription opioid use among chronic pain patients, found a distinct connection between having the legal ability to use ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.