Upper Class Teens Are Twice as Likely to Drink Regularly, Study Finds

By May Wilkerson 12/21/15

Parents who try to be lax about drinking are not necessarily setting a good example.


So it turns out, the “European” model, in which parents let their teens drink alcohol at home to “learn the ropes,” might not be such an effective way to encourage healthy habits, new research suggests. Teens from wealthy homes are more than twice as likely to drink regularly than those from poorer backgrounds, who may have less access to booze, according to a new study from the UK.

The study of 120,000 teens, published by the Health and Social Care Information Centre, found that about 70% of 15-year-olds from the wealthiest backgrounds had tried alcohol, compared to about 50% of those from the poorest backgrounds.

Just over three in five young people surveyed said they had at some point consumed a whole alcoholic drink, while the most affluent 15-year-olds were twice as likely to drink regularly. Teens from wealthy families were also more likely to continue drinking after they first tried alcohol, the study found.

Racial background also seemed to influence a teen's likelihood of drinking. More than 70% of white teens had drunk alcohol compared to just over a quarter of black and minority teens, though researchers say religion could be a major factor in this statistic.

Parents might have their kids’ best interests at heart by allowing them to drink around the house. But Dr. Sarah Jarvis, medical adviser to the alcohol education charity, Drinkaware, said they should be aware that even small quantities of alcohol could be potentially harmful to young teens. “Alcohol can harm young people while they are still developing, which is why the UK chief medical officers say an alcohol-free childhood is the best option,” she said. “Young people’s brains are still developing, and they may be more vulnerable to long-term effects on brain and educational achievement than adults even if they drink within government-recommended upper limits for adults.”

Instead of letting them drink at home, Dr. Jarvis recommends that parents demonstrate healthy, moderate drinking habits themselves, and engage their kids in honest conversations about the risks of alcohol. “As a parent, you have more influence than you might think,” she said. “Your child is likely to come to you first for information and advice about alcohol, and you can help shape their attitudes and behavior towards alcohol by being a role model for responsible drinking.”

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.