Thursday, 29 January 2009

A healthy attitude to drinking?

I have a lot of respect for Dr Liam Donaldson, the chief medical officer, and normally find his words of wisdom to have a degree of common sense about them. I can't say the same about his suggestion of a complete ban by parents on any alcohol for younger teenagers.

On the Today programme this morning, he was dismissive of the anecdotal 'middle class' view that introducing youngsters to the odd glass of wine or shandy would encourage sensible drinking in later life. He said that the 'emerging evidence' suggested this to lead to excess later. Indeed, he seemed to suggest that parents of teenagers should only serve soft drinks to their guests in order to prevent teenagers from temptation (this, of course, assumes they never leave the family home during the week).

I don't doubt that regular drinking is bad for young people. But Dr Donaldson seems to be conflating two issues: those youngsters who drink regularly and excessively and those whose parents responsibly introduce them to the odd drink in sensible moderation at twelve or thirteen. But I would like to see the hard evidence that shows that those who do the latter are more likely to become problem drinkers in later life.

Having seen those who experienced a prohibition at home becoming the heaviest drinkers in college in my student days, my 'anecdotal' experience - or qualitative evidence - would suggest that Dr Donaldson is defying common sense. But if there really is such evidence, I might be willing to change my mind.

1 comment:

Andrew Brown said...

Hard evidence isn't yet available, but what Liam Donaldson has to go on is, and you can read the whole thing here.

The review of the literature on early exposure to alcohol concludes:

"To summarise, early to alcohol may be associated with increased risk of alcohol-related problems. However, the literature is unclear as to whether early alcohol exposure leads to harmful consequences or if early drinking is more likely to occur in children who are at risk due to other personal, familial or social factors. It is possible that different outcomes may result from early alcohol exposure with peers or with parents, although parental drinking practices or attitudes to alcohol may influence higher or lower risk drinking."