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Study: Letting kids sip alcohol linked to binge drinking, problems later

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Children given a sip of alcohol from a parent or guardian before sixth grade are more likely to have a full drink or to get drunk by the time they reach their tweens or early teens, a new study from Brown University finds.

The study, which followed more than 560 Rhode Island children for more than three years, found an association between getting a taste or a sip of alcohol and an increased risk of more alcohol consumption later.

Of the three in 10 students that reported having a sip of alcohol before sixth grade, the research found, those students were five times more likely than to have had more drinks by the time they reached ninth grade. Kids who were given sips by their parents were also four times more likely to have been drunk and 3.7 times more likely to have tried binge drinking in their early high school years, the study found.

The study, produced by Brown University’s Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies and published last month in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, seems to refute a popular parenting practice known as the “European approach,” which exposes children to alcohol at a young age in hopes of countering taboos and protecting kids against binge drinking.

One of the study’s main authors, Kristina Jackson, said that although the research provides evidence that sipping is related to later alcohol problems, it does not establish that an early sip causes them.

“We’re not saying your child is doomed,” Jackson said. “The vast majority of children, even if they had sipped alcohol when they were younger, did not report evidence of problem drinking.”

The numbers should, Jackson said, encourage parents to be clear and consistent with their children that alcohol is not for them.

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