Kiddies n\’ booze

Agreed, getting the 11 year old properly pissed up before turning them out on the street corner to perform sexual tricks for the passing trade is a bad idea. But apparently introducing them to booze gradually through their teens is also very bad indeed. M\’Kay?

Researchers at Yale University said that the younger people have their first drink, the more likely they are to suffer alcohol-related problems in sixth form and at university, and be more prone to drug abuse, liver damage and problematic brain development.

The report belies the belief of many parents who think that giving their children watered-down wine from an early age, or allow them to drink in their mid-teens whilst being supervised, will teach them the dangers of drinking and encourage them to behave more responsibly with alcohol when they grow up.

Three things:

1) Boozing is hereditary.
Susceptibility to problems with booze is something we know is at least partially genetically based.

2) Boozing is hereditary.
Boozing is culturally inherited at least in part.

3) There\’s a very easy way to check these claims about teenage introduction to alcohol. Compare the figures from a country where this is regularly done (France say, Italy) to one where it is not (the US say, Iran possibly).

Finally, we\’re not really interested in whether people have problems with booze at university (especially in the absurd US where 21 is the legal drinking age). That\’s what university is for in part, a time when you can go and do the boozing thing.

What we\’d actually like to know is which method gives the fewest problems as compared to the greatest joy (is, the balance of costs and benefits) over a lifetime.

At which point it becomes rather easier: better England drunk and free than ruled by puritans.

16 thoughts on “Kiddies n\’ booze”

  1. I recall the story that the US raised the drinking age to reduce car accidents by feckless teens when they started drinking, and all that happened was that people had car accidents in their early twenties when they started drinking instead.

    Tim adds: I was actually living there when they brought it in. Got in under the grandfather clause by 2 months or something. But yes, what has happened is that drunk driving has moved from high school to college.

    Given that college kids tend to drive further this isn’t all that much of an advance.

  2. This study flies in the face of my own personal experience (and yes, I know that the plural of “anecdote” isn’t “data”) gained from ten-or-so years at assorted universities, namely that it was easy to tell the first-year undergrads who’s parents hadn’t allowed them to drink – they were the ones who were p*ssed out of their brains for the first few months. 🙂

  3. ….Those who had started getting drunk at 15 were far more likely to develop problems than those who waited until they were 17…..

    This completely undermines their arguments.

    Drinking under parent supervision as a youngster is unlikely to mean getting drunk at 15.

    It seems like they have taken “scrumpy in the park drinkers” and assumed that they drank a glass of Cabernet with their parents at Sunday lunch.

  4. ‘ I know that the plural of “anecdote” isn’t “data”’: actually, to a good approximation data is the plural of anecdote.

    Anyway, I’d say the Yale study is vitiated by two things. (i) It confuses correlation with cause – maybe they were drunk, eh?
    (ii) It’s discussing a country (I assume) with the oddest attitude to drink – vide Prohibition, a dry navy, etc.

  5. dearieme: No, anecdotes don’t build up to a useful dataset because they are self selected and badly thresholded. The resulting data is badly prone to selection and confirmation bias.

    I’m curious, what’s your academic field? Your other comments have given me a deep respect for your intellect and abilities, so I’m wondering if our difference of opinion is something to do with different fields having different terminology.

  6. The US is a great country for a comparison. Not only do we have a high legal drinking age but, state by state, the penalties vary.

    You’ve got states like mine (Arizona) that don’t really care if you let your kids drink (supervised) as long as its not obvious to states like our neighbor California who will throw you in jail for sharing a beer with your 16 year old kid and have police who will break into your home to administer breathalyzer tests to minors who’ve been reported as drinking elsewhere.

  7. Now that I think of it, San Diego likes to put police at the border with Mexico to snag 18-20 year olds who have gone across the border to drink where its legal.

    The idea is that they are in *possession* of alcohol (which is a crime for them here) if they have the slightest trace in their bodies.

  8. Matthew, consider two fields with which I have, or had, a nodding acquaintance. First, social science. Much of what is passed off as data is gathered by questionnaires completed – with Lord knows what attention to veracity – by some modest fraction of the mailing list. Much else is just self-reported accounts by American undergraduates of what they claim they think they feel about something-or-other. Maybe I’m being too generous referring to such stuff as anecdotes; perhaps a more scornful description is required.

    Consider now the Global Warmmongering advocates. If you haven’t done so you should try reading about their laughable attempts to correct surface temperature records for the Urban Heat Island effect (“UHI”). My own guess is that the perpetrators started off incompetent and later became crooked in an attempt to save their cause. Be that as it may, if your time is short you can learn a great deal by reading the notorious “Harry Read Me” released (or hacked) in the climate gate episode. (In my view Harry’s cries of pain are the funniest writing about British academic life since Lucky Jim.) Or, read up – say at Climate Audit – the saga of the attempt to make sense, or nonsense, of measured sea temperatures and the swap of method between the buckets-of-briny technique, and the thermometers-in-the-water technique: hours of innocent fun for anyone with the least tendency to critical scrutiny of “data”.

    After all that, you may incline to agree that much that is passed off as data is just a heap of anecdotes, or worse.

  9. Or, consider what My Friend the Epidemiologist, tells me about data in that field. One anecdote (!) should do. He was studying death rates from something-or-other. The data from Italy looked odd. On enquiry he found that cause of death might be judged in Italy by (i) a doctor, or (ii) a nurse, or (iii) the deceased’s family.

  10. Matthew L

    Essentially, some data is anecdote and some anecdote is data. ‘Some a is F’ implies ‘Some F is a’, and vice-versa.

  11. Ah, I see what you mean now. Data is not the plural of anecdote, but “data” often is. In that case, I agree with you totally. Coming from a hard science background I tend to view data collection in a rather more rigorous light, and catching someone fiddling or misrepresenting their raw data is a major scandal. In the social sciences it’s practically required.

  12. My misunderstanding, I think, was that I should have read “to an approximation” as “in practice”.

  13. Dearieme: From my reading of your first comment I thought you were in favour of anecdote, hence my surprise. I’m a big fan of Ben Goldacre mainly because he opens fire at it whenever he sees it.

  14. Not only is boozing hereditary, so is the ability to drink others under the table. I am proud to announce that my son appears to have inherited that ability and I await with interest the results for the current tests being undertaken by my daughter. They look promising.

    On a more sober note, what severely curtailed my son’s drinking was his discovery that if he was sober while his mates were drunk, they would pay him to drive them home.

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