The younger you start drinking, the deeper the alcohol problems as an adult

“The results indicate that those children who are given alcohol by their parents may be more likely to seek out alcohol from a variety of other sources”
Dr Monika Wadolowski.

“I recommend young teenagers avoid alcohol for as long as possible”  

Australian Drug Foundation spokesman, Geoff Munro.

Parents are the major supplier of alcohol to the under 18s. Many of these do so with the best of intentions, to introduce alcohol in a safe, supervised environment, with the aim of moderating a child’s drinking”

Professor Richard Mattick.

“Just delaying people drinking by six months or a year is actually a very, very substantial intervention that would have vast beneficial consequences”
Dr Hugh Garavan, University of Vermont, Canada.

How many times have we seen this research before?

I have seen this exact result in study after study after study. All the research paints the same picture. Introducing your kids to alcohol early just simply gives them a taste for it. Many times has this been investigated and in many different cultures, and the same feedback just keeps on coming from different research projects and health researchers all over the globe.

Scientists reporting on a June 2014 study from the University of Vermont, Canada, found “A single glass of wine or beer at the age of 14 can help a young teenager along the path to binge drinking. We were able to predict who from a large group of 14-year-olds would be binge drinking by the age of 16 with 70% accuracy”.

“Parents should be aware that if their teenager is binge drinking, they are more likely to sustain binging later in life. This challenges the belief that being exposed to alcohol early on means they will be protected from alcohol-related problems when they grow up. But just as a parent would never give their child a cigarette to try, the same view should perhaps apply to alcohol. Delaying that first taste of alcohol might be the best thing you can do. Most people don’t even know when they’re binge drinking. While they do know when they are wasted, the reality is that four consecutive drinks per sitting for a woman and five for a man constitutes binge drinking. And that means society is more tolerant of binge drinking than we think”
Erin O’Loughlin, Concordia’s Independent Program (INDI) and Department of Exercise Science, December 2014.

Recent Australian study found the same thing

The Australian National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre followed nearly 2,000 families for over four years. They found categorically that:

  • Teenagers who are given alcohol by their parents were THREE TIMES more likely to be heavily drinking by age 16
  • The biggest predictor for drinking alcohol in year 10 was simply “early parental supply” through school years 7 to 9

The results shocked researchers. The chief investigator, Professor Mattick, said “Adolescent drinking is linked to later harms in early adulthood including injury, sexually transmitted diseases and adult alcohol dependence”.

“Many parents believe that providing alcohol to their child to take to parties or drink at a meal is more responsible than restricting them from consuming alcohol. This is not the case. The evidence in which these guidelines are based upon show that the earlier a young person starts drinking alcohol the more likely they are to experience injuries and harms, poor academic outcomes, and possibly impaired brain development. In the long-term there are also links with a variety of cancers and diseases and a greater chance the child will drink at harmful levels in adulthood. These are good reasons for children to avoid alcohol before the age of 18”

Dr Bosco Rowland, Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Deakin University, Australia, 2014.

What do we clearly know?

  • Teenagers who regularly consume alcohol are more likely to binge drink when older
  • Young men are more likely to sustain the drinking habits they formed while young
  • In the UK, almost 75% of teenagers have blacked out due to alcohol by the time they hit 19

Raising the drinking age saves lives

The earlier young people are exposed to, and start drinking alcohol, the w

worse their health outcomes. It is actually that simple.  My opinion, formed through long term research into drinking habits of the young, the radically changed environment we now live in (alcohol sadly has been normalized), modern social media pressures and the high drinking risks for unconsented sexual activity and abuse of our daughters, leads me to recommend to all parents a mature, informed and proactive intelligent attitude towards alcohol and our young ones.

Alcohol and teenagers = long term damage

In my book ‘My 20 GOLDEN Rules’, I go into great detail about alcohol and teenagers, with an overview on the actual harm that alcohol does to society, then into the effect our attitudes and behaviour influence how our children drink. Reading this is a sobering and balanced view (rather than a marketing sell from the alcohol companies) of the actual modern research, epidemiological studies and science behind this very emotive topic of ‘alcohol and teenagers’. Alcohol has a catastrophic risk to our daughters, their safety and sexual abuse around alcohol, and their future lifetime sexual behaviours if alcohol is involved while they are young.

Early puberty = higher risk of dangerous health and emotional outcomes

Given the modern diet is creating much earlier age of puberty (I have seen the research and spoken on this over many years), and how social media is creating earlier drinking in our young women, and the fact we know that drinking and early puberty both lead to depression and a much higher risk of young suicides, and that NZ girls between ages 15-24, have the highest early suicide rate in the world, this is a topic that needs to be confronted.

If we can prevent even one case of rape, disfigurement or death in our young people by raising the awareness and truth about how alcohol affects our young, then it is worth it.

The younger you drink, the higher the risk

Women who were legally allowed to consume alcohol before age 21 had a higher risk for death by suicide or homicide, according to a population-based study¹.  “We observed a significant minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) and sex interaction in the prediction of both suicide and homicide that corresponded to a 12% elevation in suicide risk and a 15% elevation in homicide risk for women exposed to an MLDA of less than 21” wrote Richard Grucza,

PhD, MPE, and colleagues in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

Alcohol, suicide, depression, early sexualisation

Widespread implementation of an MLDA of 21 would prevent more than 1,200 suicides and homicides every year in the USA alone. This would be comparable per capita in NZ. This alone makes it a worthwhile social policy. Many previous studies have proven that suicide and homicide rates are directly associated with per capita alcohol consumption. New Zealand has the #1 suicide rates for young women aged 15-24 in the world.

Alcohol is present in 30% of homicide victims.

If we want to really help the disenfranchised in society then a higher drinking age would immediately do just that.

Psychological autopsy studies have shown that 56% of people who committed suicide abused alcohol.

Drinking young = higher suicide = early death.

Liver disease, drugs, hospitals and fertility

Over the past 20 to 30 years, deaths from liver disease have increased by 500%, with 85% of those due to alcohol. The average lifespan for someone with alcoholic liver disease is their 40s. I have known people who have died in their 40s from preventable disease that was fuelled by an overindulgence of alcohol. Alcohol is more dangerous to society than heroin or crack cocaine combined according to The Lancet. The study by the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs also ranked alcohol as three times more harmful than cocaine or tobacco because it is so widely used. Alcohol-related hospital admissions reached record worldwide levels in 2010. They have grown since then – every year. Alcohol lowers fertility (which is already lower than any other time in history) and increases your risk of almost every sickness we know of including diabetes and heart disease.

Spare me the rubbish and raise the drinking age

The usual arguments about the drinking age revolve around “if you can go to war for your country at age 18 then you should be able to drink” and I can understand this sentiment. After all we go to war to protect our nation and preserve life. The irony is that a higher drinking age also protects our nation, our elderly, our young people, our children, our families, our society and our country AND preserves life. A higher drinking age of 21 supports our youth, lowers the death rate from depression (which is always linked with alcohol intake), lowers the death rates of suicide (which is always linked with alcohol intake), and lowers the rates of violence, homicide and infanticide (which is always linked with alcohol intake).

Is this not something worth fighting for? I have said it many times but just because something has been done for a long time, it does not make it smart or the right thing to do. I voted against lowering the drinking age in NZ in 1999 and I would do so again today. Why? First do no harm. The harm and death to our young people must be prevented at every opportunity. They are our future.

I am more committed to our children than politics or grandstanding. I gave up drinking 30 years ago and it has served me well. My 16-year-old brother was killed by a drunk driver in the middle of the day on a Saturday afternoon. When you are 21 your brain is fully developed and you are able to make rash decisions. Your brain at 16 or 18 is still a muddle of hormones, emotional chaos and self-obsessed rebellion.

You have enough going on as a youth without pouring the poison of alcohol in as well.

Written by Jason Shon Bennett from ExceptionalHealth®.


  1. Study published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research by Grucza R, et al “The legacy of minimum legal drinking age law changes: Long-term effects on suicide and homicide deaths among women” 2011. They suggested that individuals allowed to drink before 21 were at an elevated risk for alcohol-related problems later in life (Alcohol Clinical Experimental Research 2009; 33: 2180-2190).

Further references:

  • Alcohol Concern press release as reported by the Press Association on Monday 27 June 2016.
  • Ministerial Forum on Alcohol Advertising and Sponsorship. 2014. Ministerial Forum on Alcohol Advertising and Sponsorship: Recommendations on alcohol advertising and sponsorship. Wellington: Ministry of Health.
  • Study by Concordia, in collaboration with the Université de Montréal and University of Massachusetts, from the Nicotine Dependence in Teens (NDIT) study data, as published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 2014.
  • Study survey on 1,402 teens as published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research on December 16, 2014.
  • UK data as reported by AAP on September 8, 2014.
  • Study on 1,600 participants over three years by Dr James D. Sargent, MD, professor of pediatrics, Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine, and colleagues, as published online in JAMA Pediatrics on January 19, 2015.
  • From the Sydney Morning Herald article “Alcohol and sport: how did it come to this?” by Luke McCarthy.
  • Barney Ronay quote from his article in The Guardian on June 25, 2014.
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