“People who begin drinking alcohol before the age of 15 are six times more likely than those who start at age 21 and older to develop alcohol problems,” said Pamela Hyde, SAMHSA administrator. “Parents and other adults need to be aware that providing alcohol to children can expose them to an increased risk for alcohol abuse and set them on a path with increased potential for addiction.”
However, it remains uncertain whether starting to drink early actually causes future alcoholism. So far, the studies done on the subject have all been correlational, and the results may be influenced by other factors.
For instance, people who start drinking early are also more likely to have alcoholic parents, poor supervision, or have a history of abuse or other trauma in their lives, which can all influence the likelihood of future alcoholism.
Additionally, other studies have shown that when parents drink with teens at dinner or in a religious context, it can actually lower teens’ risk for future alcoholism. On the other end of the spectrum, if parents provide alcohol for teen parties, it can increase the risk of alcohol problems.
The study did not ask the questions regarding the context in which adults provided teens with alcohol, researchers said.