The First Sip of a Drinking Problem

“Just a sip.” This little phrase may be all it takes to start a drinking problem.

A study found that adults are offering alcohol to children, with nearly 40 percent of participants having tasted alcohol by the age of eight.

These findings come on the heels of previous studies that confirm that the earlier an individual starts drinking alcohol, the more likely they are to develop a drinking problem.

Sips From Family Members – Not So Simple and Innocent

The National Institutes of Health states that almost 5,000 people die each year because of underage drinking, with some having started drinking at very early ages. John Donovan, associate professor of psychiatry and epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, states that when younger children take their first sips of alcohol they are more prone to start drinking larger amounts of alcohol by age 14 or even earlier.

Subjecting the growing and maturing body to the effects of alcohol takes a toll. Studies have connected teenage drinking to abnormal hormone production and abnormal growth during puberty, along with brain and liver damage. Alcohol not only affects children physically, but interferes with school, friends and a healthy social life.

Cultural/Race Role

Researchers affirmed that some of these early sippers came from European backgrounds, which are more lenient about handing their child that first sip.

Doctors found that 44 percent of European-American children had been given their first taste of alcohol by age eight. Only 18 percent of African-American eight-year-olds had indulged in their first sip of alcohol. The European-American children were found to have a great risk of alcoholism later in their lives.

In the decade-long study of 452 children, researchers found that as the eight-year-olds grew into teenagers, the amount of alcohol they consumed also increased. By age 12, two-thirds of the group had tried alcohol. During the teen years these children became light drinkers. By age 18, one-third of the group was already suffering from alcohol-related problems. Three years before the legal drinking age in the U.S., 96 percent of 18 year olds reported that they already had their first sip of alcohol and 78 percent were regular drinkers of alcohol.

If adults were more aware of these findings, they might pause before letting a child take “just a sip” of an alcoholic beverage.

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