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Children given sips of alcohol may not be heavy drinkers – study

A study recently published in a psychology journal indicates that children who are given sips of alcohol by adults are likely to start drinking in their early teenage.

However, there are also inconclusive findings suggesting that most such children may not grow to be heavy drinkers compared to those introduced to the habit by their peers.

The study was done between 2010 and 2014 by 11 experts in Australia, but their Kenyan counterparts who spoke to the Sunday Nation have weighed in on the habit of some parents giving sips of alcohol to small children.

Titled “Parental Supply of Alcohol and Alcohol Consumption in Adolescence: Prospective Cohort Study” is featured in the Psychological Medicine journal, published by the Cambridge University Press.

The team surveyed 1,927 children in Year Seven from schools in Australia’s Sydney, Perth and Hobart cities. During the four-year period, they kept track of the children’s alcohol consumption.

They also gauged binge drinking, defined as having more than four drinks in a single session. One parent for each child was also surveyed annually.

“Parental supply of alcohol to adolescents was associated with increased risk of drinking, but not bingeing. These parentally-supplied children also consumed fewer drinks on a typical drinking occasion. Adolescents supplied alcohol from non-parental sources had greater odds of drinking and bingeing,” the researchers say in their conclusion.

CURIOSITY

Some Kenyan parents live by the habit of allowing their children to have a taste of alcohol, especially the traditional brew, to end their curiosity.

Such approach is also taken by some parents in Europe. Britain’s the Guardian newspaper quoted an Australian university professor saying the study proved the ineffectiveness of the European model of providing alcohol to children.

With the study stating that such introduction doubles the chances of a child getting hooked to alcohol, it appears there is a thin line between satisfying curiosity and sparking alcoholism.

Mr John Mochama, a resident of Kisii County, recalls that his late grandfather used to let him and his four brothers taste busaa, considered an elders’ drink. Neither he nor his brothers, he said, became hooked to it.

“He would let us taste busaa and have as much as we liked. Given that our grandmother was once a busaa seller, I think the intention was to make us grow knowing what it was about,” said Mr Mochama, a 24-year-old graduate teacher.

PROPER GUIDANCE

Musician David Mathenge, popularly known as Nameless, said parents should not let their children taste alcohol without proper guidance on the negative effects of the substance.

Equally, he said, the child needs to show that they are responsible enough before they can be let to taste.

“If at some point you see this kid is so responsible, you can give them, saying, ‘Let it not shock you. This is not even sweet.’ You can have them taste and say, ‘In fact it’s bitter’,” said Nameless, a father of two who was at one time a responsible drinking ambassador for the East African Breweries.

Asked whether he would let his children have a taste of his liquor, he replied: “I would not encourage it.”

The artiste noted that as much as such tasting may help remove the mischief in the children, the key is candid communication.

“As a parent, you need to make your children understand, not just stopping them but making them understand why it is not good for them. That is now the trick because normally we are very harsh,” he said.

Researchers in the study also attempted to explain why children introduced to alcohol by their parents do not become heavy drinkers.

PROTECTIVE EFFECT

“Parental supply may have a protective effect, possibly due to the supervised nature of the supply,” they said.

“However, our view is that such a conclusion is premature at this time. These results should not be taken to suggest that parental supply is somehow protective of bingeing in the longer term. In fact, parents may be accelerating children into drinking alcohol, and laying down the potential for later harms.”

Psychiatrist Njeri Muigai, who is a consultant at Nairobi-based Mediva Wellness Centre that rehabilitates alcoholics among other functions, said the study is not conclusive and that it appeared contradictory.

“The findings actually contradict each other. If you look at it properly, the first statement says that those who were introduced to alcohol early are more likely to drink than their counterparts. Then again they say those who did not will binge-drink,” she said, noting that the bottom line of the study is that it is not good for parents to introduce their children to alcohol.

Dr Muigai added: “Exposing a child to alcohol at such an early age may predispose the child to consume alcohol later on in life because whatever the brain is fed at that point is ingrained.”

In the course of her work at a rehabilitation centre, Dr Muigai said, she has come across people who say they were introduced to alcohol by their parents.

ALCOHOLIC PARENTS

“I have seen cases whereby children started drinking in the presence of their parents and later on became a problem. And they call themselves ‘child of an alcoholic parent’ and they clearly put the blame squarely on their parents, saying that if it was not for that exposure at an early age, they would not have found themselves so easily pulled by alcohol,” she said.

Ms Caren Gichana, a clinical coordinator at the Nairobi Place Rehab Centre, said alcoholism may run in the family in some cases. But in other instances, people get hooked by tasting alcohol.

“Even if they don’t have that genetic predisposition, the more they use it, the more it gets into the neurons and the brain” she said.

In Ms Gichana’s view, anyone below the age of 30 years should keep away from alcohol as it hampers brain growth.

“Medically, we say the brain is still developing up to around 30 years. So, when you introduce this child who is below 30 years to alcohol, it’s like you’ve stagnated the development of their brain. So, this child is prone to getting to addiction easily compared to a person who started later,” she said.

Studies previously done in Kenya have shown that most alcoholics had parents who were drinking alcohol.

An undated research by Moi University’s Mary Mahugu, published online, says fathers play a big role in their children’s attraction to alcohol.

“Majority of the fathers of the alcoholics (66 per cent) use alcohol occasionally, moderately or frequently. Only about 26 per cent of the mothers use alcohol,” states Ms Mahugu of the Moi University’s Department of Student Affairs.