The reality of it all

Addiction expert and author of the recent book Addiction Proof Your Child Stanton Peele was interviewed recently by CNN on how parents should teach their children about alcohol. Along with his 19 year-old daughter, Anna, he discusses the importance of introducing adolescent children to alcohol in the home, modeling responsible behavior, and allowing them to sample alcohol on family occasions. Peele argues that taking such an approach is proven to lessen the likelihood of binge drinking and that more American parents need to play an active, supportive role in teaching their children about alcohol.

He says many of the programs set up to stop alcohol abuse contribute to the teen binge-drinking crisis. Any program that tells kids flatly not to drink creates temptation, he says. “Preparing your child to drink at home lessens the likelihood that they are going to binge drink,” he says. “Not sharing alcohol with your child is a risk factor for binge drinking.”

Peele’s advice is straightforward, responsible, and realistic. The vast majority–over 90% of young people who drink–start drinking before age 21. Adolescents will be exposed to alcohol before they are 21, likely in situations where their peers are drinking excessively and illegally. There is nothing new or revolutionary about this argument–in most other cultures (which incidentally have lower rates of youthful binge drinking…go figure!), alcohol is introduced in a family setting where norms about its use are instilled and it is held up as a food source rather than an intoxicant.

Yet apparently evidence from centuries of this practice around the globe aren’t enough proof for Partnership for a Drug-Free America.

“That’s ridiculous,” says Calvina Fay, executive director of the Drug Free America Foundation. “By allowing teens to drink,” Fay says, “you are giving permission to your children to do harmful things.”

Fay’s statements are reactionary and short sighted. Consuming alcohol is a normative experience for young Americans. Denying that reality, and chastising parents who are giving their children essential experience by serving alcohol in the home is dangerous and has perpetuated the culture of excess we are currently facing. We need to encourage policies that make moderate use an option for young adults, rather than supporting an unrealistic, no use policy for 18-20 year-old young adults.

Bottom line: Prohibition doesn’t (and has never) worked!

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