A parent’s attitudes and habits more often than not influence their child’s attitudes and habits. For parents looking to protect their children against the adverse effects of alcohol use during childhood, a lax attitude toward alcohol use is not the best course of action. A recent study conducted by psychologists from the University of Buffalo has found that if parents want to prevent adolescents from drinking, their practices and restrictions are the first line of defense.

"What our data are suggesting is that you can't control all of your kids' decisions, but you can help them to make good choices in situations where alcohol is available," lead researcher Craig Colder said in a statement. "You want kids to think about and reflect upon the pros and cons of drinking based on your previous discussions."

Colder and his colleagues conducted three annual assessments for children and their parents. The first assessment was given when children were 10 to 11 years old, an age before most kids start experimenting with alcohol. During this assessment, both child and parents answered questions regarding the family’s at-home environment and alcohol use. The second assessment was performed a year after the initial interview, and the third assessment a year after that.

Although most parents implemented rules and disciplinary action for alcohol use when children were younger, they tend to waver from these rules as children get older. As parents become less likely to discipline their children over alcohol use, they become more likely to grant their children permission to drink. This leads to a breakdown in communication, especially when it comes to the consequence of alcohol use.

"We found a correlation between the shifting of those three aspects of parenting and increases in alcohol use," Colder added. "The more rapid those declines, the more rapid the increase in the onset of alcohol use."

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, transition in human development, such as puberty and increasing independence, have been implicated in alcohol use during adolescents. Other risk factors for adolescents include risk-taking behavior, peer expectancies, sensitivity and tolerance to alcohol, personality characteristics, hereditary factors, and environment factors.

Around 5,000 young people under the age of 21 die as a result of underage drinking each year in the United States. Approximately 1,900 of these deaths are caused by motor vehicle accidents, 1,600 due to homicide, 300 from suicide, and the remaining from falls, burns, and drowning. Drinking at such a young age can increase a person’s risk for alcohol-related health risks, including adverse effects on the brain, liver, growth, and endocrine system.

Source: Zehe J, Colder C. A latent growth curve analysis of alcohol-use specific parenting and adolescent alcohol use. Addictive Behaviors. 2014.