Teenage brains on alcohol

Neurology Now
February-march 2012
Volume 8(1)
p 5
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“Buzz Kill” by Amy Paturel (December 2011/January 2012), presented a very helpful summary of the effects of alcohol on the developing adolescent brain and why they are so much more severe than the effects on adults. This is information everyone should know, not only parents. However, the author makes one statement that implies supervised drinking with adults (“having a glass of wine at dinner with mom and dad”) may help protect adolescents from harmful drinking. This runs counter to data collected over the past decade in several studies in the U.S. and abroad.

Most recently, Dr. McMorris and colleagues (Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 2011) compared drinking behavior in adolescents in Washington State with that in Victoria, Australia, where a national policy supports supervised drinking with parents as a way to introduce teens to alcohol and foster moderate drinking.

The study authors found the opposite to be true: “Providing opportunities for drinking in supervised contexts did not inhibit alcohol use or harmful use in either state. These results, coupled with recent evidence from Dr. van der Vorst and colleagues (2010), lead us to suggest that policies should not encourage parents to drink with their children nor provide opportunities to supervise their use. Even after adolescents begin to drink, adult supervision of alcohol use appears to exacerbate continued drinking and harms associated with drinking. Results from the current study provide consistent support for parents adopting a ‘no-use’ standard if they want to reduce harmful alcohol use among their adolescents.”

Dr. van der Vorst, in the Netherlands, found that underage teens who were allowed to drink with their parents were far more likely than other teens to also drink with friends on the sly—and to drink more heavily. She concluded her article with this: “If parents want to reduce the risk that their child will become a heavy drinker or problem drinker in adolescence, they should try to postpone the age at which their child starts drinking.”

While all the rest of Ms. Paturel's article supports these behavioral science results with recent neuroscience, that one statement perpetuates a myth.

Dean Whitlock

Mt. Ascutney Prevention Partnership, Windsor, VT

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