NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Teenagers with large allowances may be more likely to become problem drinkers, research conducted in the UK hints.
In a study of more than 10,000 15- and 16-year-olds, British researchers found that teens with larger allowances were more likely to drink frequently, binge or drink on street corners and other public places.
The large majority of the teenagers in the study — 88 percent — had tried alcohol at some point. But risky drinking was particularly common among teenagers with more pocket money, presumably because they were better able to buy their own alcohol.
About one-third of teens in the survey said they bought their own alcohol, and they were six times more likely than their peers to drink in public places, three times more likely to drink frequently and twice as likely to binge on a regular basis.
The findings suggest that parents could help curb problem drinking by keeping tabs on how their children spend their money, according to lead study author Mark A. Bellis, of Liverpool John Moores University.
The results also call for better enforcement of laws prohibiting alcohol sales to minors, he told Reuters Health.
Bellis and his colleagues report the findings in the online journal Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention and Policy.
Besides risk factors for problem drinking, the survey also identified some protective factors. For example, teens who drank alcohol with their parents in a family setting — like having wine with dinner — were less likely to binge or drink in other particularly risky ways.
“Put simply,” Bellis said, “by the age of 14 most children in the UK have drank some alcohol, and they are either learning to drink it from parents in a secure home environment or from peers in a park, bar or on a street corner.”
Teens who learn from their parents may be learning how to drink moderately and responsibly, he noted. Parents may be able to lower the odds of problem drinking by talking to their teenagers about “how to and how not to” drink alcohol, Bellis said.
But they should also make sure they know how their kids are spending their money, he noted. In this study, teens whose parents gave them more than 10 pounds — or roughly $20 — each week were more likely to use alcohol in particularly risky ways.
Parents are not, however, the only ones with a responsibility, according to Bellis. They need help, he said, from strict enforcement of underage sales laws — which, in the UK, apply to teenagers younger than 18.
“Those establishments that continue to sell alcohol to people underage should be penalized with the full force of the law,” Bellis said.
SOURCE: Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention and Policy, online May 10, 2007.