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Young Kids and Booze: Tasting Common

By Age 10, 48% of Kids Have Sipped Alcohol, Study Shows
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Kids and Alcohol: Study Results

"A fairly large proportion of children have some personal experience with alcohol by age 8 or 10," Donovan says. "So we really shouldn't be talking about adolescence as a time when experimenting with alcohol starts."

Most of the early sipping and tasting, he found, occurred at home or family celebrations or at religious services. "Sipping and tasting is done in the home, not [typically] done with peers, is more likely to happen if parents are drinkers themselves," he says. "And it's not due to parents actually giving the children a drink, necessarily. A lot of times the kids grab the drink that was there or they found the bottle around the house."

Among the other findings:

  • While sipping was common, it wasn't usually frequent. While 62% of the 8-year-olds had sipped just once, 54% of the 10-year-olds had only sipped once.
  • Boys and girls were about equally likely to sip and taste.
  • White children were about twice as likely as African-Americans to have tasted or sipped alcohol.
  • Sipping and tasting rates weren't different for kids in single-parent households compared with those whose mothers had a husband or partner in residence.
  • Sipping and tasting with friends or alone was rare; only 2% of each age group reported these behaviors.

Parents weren't always aware of their children's experimenting. "When we asked parents if they knew if their child had sipped or tasted, a third of the moms didn't know and half of the dads didn't know," Donovan says.

Kids and Booze: Findings 'Make Sense'

The study results are no surprise to Robert A. Zucker, PhD, director of the Addiction Research Center at the University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, who was the review editor for the paper.

"At first glance, the numbers may be a surprise to those who have not reflected on it," he says. But the findings, including the fact that most of the sips and tastes are done at home, make sense if you take a step back, he says.

The data on sipping and tasting are a valuable addition to what experts know about early alcohol use, Zucker tells WebMD. Early drinkers -- those who do more than sip and taste before age 14 -- are four times as likely to become alcoholics, he says.

Now, researchers can investigate what effect sipping and tasting in childhood may have on later alcohol problems.

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