Parents, Alcohol and Children: The American Medical Association (AMA) Speaks Out
by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.
“An increasing number of parents are actually supplying alcohol to teenagers” warns an editorial by the American Medical Association’s president-elect, J. Edward Hill of Mississippi. 1 Such an assertion carries much weight coming from the authoritative and trusted AMA.
However, upon questioning, the AMA has acknowledged that it has absolutely no reliable or credible evidence whatsoever for its headline-grabbing declaration. It turns out that the statement is based entirely on scattered anecdotes and impressions -- and nothing more. 2
The editorial also implies that underage drinking is a growing problem, although government research repeatedly demonstrates dramatic declines in underage alcohol consumption rates over the past 25 years or so. For example, the proportion of people age 12 through 17 who drink alcohol was more than two-and-one-half higher in 1980, according to the federal government’s annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health. 3
Similarly, the proportion of high school students who drink continues to decline, and the proportion of college freshmen who drink continues to drop to historic new lows. 4
Although it continues to decline, alcohol abuse is still too high. This problem can be reduced even more by implementing the effective social norms technique and also by promoting harm reduction practices. 5
The AMA Leader's Home State
The AMA leader's home state of Mississippi is uniquely temperance-oriented. Mississippi imposed state-wide alcohol prohibition in 1907, over a dozen years before the rest of the country. It was the very first state to ratify the 18th Amendment to create National Prohibition. Following national rejection of Prohibition through Repeal in 1933, the state maintained its own state-wide prohibition for another one-third of a century. After that, it specifically “reaffirmed prohibition” when it decided to permit local option regarding alcohol.. Today, almost one-half of the counties in Mississippi are "dry" with their own prohibition against the production, advertising, sale, distribution, or transportation of alcoholic beverages within their boundaries. It is even illegal to bring alcohol through a dry county in Mississippi while traveling across the country in the process of, for example, moving a personal wine or spirits collection to one's new residence. 8
This pervasive temperance mentality where the AMA leader was born and raised may explain why he made his unsupported claim --- but it doesn’t excuse it.
There’s also substantial evidence that drinking with parents reduces both alcohol consumption and alcohol abuse. For example, teenagers who drink alcohol with their parents are less likely than others to have either consumed alcohol or abused it in recent weeks according to a nation-wide study of over 6,200 teenagers in 242 communities across the U.S. 6
Drinking alcohol with parents “may help teach them responsible drinking habits or extinguish some of the ‘novelty’ or ‘excitement’ of drinking” according to the senior researcher, Dr. Kristie Long Foley of the School of Medicine at Wake Forest University.
Dr. Foley describes drinking with parents as a “protective” behavior. This is to be expected. Those societies and cultural groups with very high rates of drinking but very low rates of alcohol-related problems have certain common keys to success. One such protective key is that in such groups young people learn about moderate drinking from their parents and they do so from an early age. 7 This isn’t speculation but fact.
Effective recommendations must be based on factual evidence instead of scattered anecdotes and impressions.