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What Should Parents Teach their Children about Alcohol

Police have called for a national debate on parental responsibility after 70% of drunk teens stopped in a seaside town were found to have been given alcohol by their mother or father. In this blog article, Castle Craig’s founder and Medical Director – Dr. Margaret McCann – puts forward her point of view:

“Alcohol is the UK’s favourite drug. For many, it oils the wheels of our social life. We use it mostly at dinner, sometimes lunch, after work or in the evenings. It’s a drug that we use more whilst we’re on holiday, or perhaps celebrating, and we do often consume more in our youth – especially in our early 20s.

A family disease

Yet alcohol is also an addictive drug, and some of us will inevitably turn the corner from enjoying alcohol to craving it, needing it and drinking it despite the serious problems it causes to our health, our family and our relationships. This is what happens to an addict – and it is the addict’s family who often suffer the most from the havoc that addiction can wreak.

It is partly for this reason that addiction is sometimes called “a family disease” – for this is where the impact is most strongly felt. But there is another reason: research shows that the likelihood of developing alcoholism runs in the family. The genetic make-up that an individual inherits partly explains this pattern, but lifestyle also plays a role.

The role of the parent

What this means for mothers in particular is that they have a crucial role to play in teaching their children the right relationship with alcohol. This doesn’t mean “wine weaning” – which is the practice of encouraging children to drink from an early age by giving them watered down wine. There is no evidence that this sort of practice helps to create a good relationship with alcohol later in life.

After many years of experience I would say that parents should not encourage their children to drink at all – not until they are well into their teens.  The reason for this is simple – at some point in all our lives we need to learn to say “no” to alcohol.  This might be after the second glass of the night, during pregnancy, or after several years of misusing alcohol.

Social pressures

There are a lot of social pressures out there encouraging us to say “yes” and have a drink, and “yes” is a message that our children will inevitably hear and learn from society as they grow up and move away from home. But saying “no” to alcohol is a lesson that can only be taught at home. At some point in our lives we need to learn to say no to alcohol – and the best place to learn that is at home, from our parents.

As children move into their mid to late teens – the rules can be relaxed, but drinking should only be encouraged at home, within a safe family environment.”