Do you allow your children to drink at home?

The article below is adapted from Parentally Speaking, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence's newsletter, which is targeted primarily at parents and caregivers in Middlesex County.  The NCADD also hopes to reach educators, government officials, service providers and anyone else who impacts the lives of our youth.  If you have any suggestions or items you would like to submit for future newsletters, please send your suggestions to: ezra@ncadd-middlesex.org.

While many parents may think that allowing their teens and their teens’ friends to drink at home under adult supervision  keeps kids safe and leads  to healthier attitudes about drinking, the truth is that  there are serious  negative consequences  for both parents and teens.  Why? Well, unfortunately, many parents subscribe to common myths and misperceptions related to underage drinking. They include:

Myth: Some parents think that providing alcohol to teens at home decreases the risk for continued drinking as teens get older, and subsequent drinking problems later in life.

Truth: The opposite is true – parents should be aware that supplying alcohol to minors actually increases, rather than decreases, the risk for continued drinking in the teenage years and leads to subsequent problem  drinking later in life.
Myth: Young people from European cultures whose parents give them alcohol at an early age learn to drink more responsibly than their American counterparts.

Truth: A greater percentage of European youth report drinking regularly (in the past 30 days) versus American youth, and for a majority of European countries, a greater percentage of young people report having been intoxicated before the age of 13 than is the case in the U.S. The World Health Organization cites global longitudinal studies that found the earlier young people start drinking, the more likely they are to experience alcohol related injury and alcohol dependence later in life.
Myth: Some parents believe that being ‘too strict’ about adolescent drinking during high school will cause teens to drink more when they first leave the home and do not have as much parental oversight.

Truth: New research from The Partnership Attitude Tracking Study (PATS) reveals that teens who perceive their parents to be more permissive about alcohol use are MORE likely to abuse alcohol and to use other drugs.
Myth: Parents who serve alcohol to teenagers other than their own children at home are under no legal jeopardy.

Truth: A majority of states have civil and or criminal penalties for adults who provide alcohol at underage kids’ parties. Underage drinking continues to be a pervasive problem among American youth, a fact that the latest Monitoring The Future study confirms:

  • Nearly half of teens (44 percent) have consumed alcohol within the past year, while more than one in four teens (26 percent) reports having been drunk in the past year.
  • More than a quarter of teens (26 percent) said they had consumed alcohol within the past month, while more than one in seven (15 percent) reported being drunk in the past month.
  • One in seven teens (14 percent) said they have had five or more drinks in a row within the past 2 weeks.
  • More than three-quarters of 10th graders (78 percent) say it is fairly or very easy to get alcohol if they want some, and more than half of 8th graders (58 percent) say the same.


Adolescence is a time of growth and great potential, but it is also a time of risk taking and experimentation with drugs and alcohol, which can quickly get out of hand. At no other time in human development is the risk for developing a substance use disorder so high. As parents help their children navigate the often tricky waters of this developmental period, especially regarding substance use and its potentially devastating consequences, being armed with accurate information is their best line of defense.  Childhood drinking is foremost a health issue.

In conclusion, it seems that many well intentioned parents think that supplying alcohol for their child to drink at home may teach them how to ‘drink responsibly’ and might prevent them from drinking elsewhere. But the truth is that early consumption of alcohol in any context increases the likelihood of harmful effects in the long run.  What’s more, studies have shown that when parents supply alcohol to their kids, it actually increases the risk for continued consumption during childhood and lifetime problem drinking.  Drinking in the home does not prevent children from drinking outside the home or with their friends.