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Sensible tippling?

Rod McKenzie Rod McKenzie | 13:19 UK time, Friday, 30 January 2009

How old were you when you had your first drink?

I'd be interested to know if starting early made you less or more likely to drink more later in life.

Radio 1 logoThe reason I ask is, of course, that new government guidance for England advises that children shouldn't be allowed to have any alcohol until they're at least 15. After that, it recommends all booze should be drunk under supervision until the age of 18.

Our audience on Radio 1's Newsbeat - our young audience - was not impressed. Most seem to think it's another example of nannying, don't-do-this-do-this government.

Kimberley texted us to say:" i lived in a pub when i grew up and i had my 1st drink at the age of around 6ish. I am now 25 and i no my limit and with seeing people drunk when i was younger made me not want 2 look like that".

Dave in Filey, North Yorkshire agrees: "it's about time the govt started to actually run the country and stopped interfering in the public's personnal lives-we are not as incapable of rational decision making as many people in govt think we are".

But Georgina from Leeds says: "Alcohol is a drug and potentially poisonous. It can damage developing organs and seriously affect judgement. The argument that the more adults say no the more children will do it is a cop out by parents who do not take their responsibilities seriously. It is our job to keep children and young people safe".

Other listeners cited the European family drinking culture, which seems to work well for the Italians, Spanish and French, they say: not much binge drinking there, thanks to a sip or two with mum and dad at the dinner table. A view endorsed by David Cameron when he was interviewed by Newsbeat last year - he's all for an introduction to sensible tippling.

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And by the way, I had my first drink aged 11: do I drink sensibly? Well... mostly.

Rod McKenzie is editor of Newsbeat and 1Xtra News.


  • Comment number 1.

    kids who drunk before they were 18
    do not get so drunk stupid when they
    go to college as the sheltered ones do

  • Comment number 2.

    I think it was wine and (mostly) lemonade over Sunday lunch when I was about eleven or twelve. Twenty years later, and I'm a pretty sensible drinker.

    Sure I've had far too much, but I eventually found my limits.

  • Comment number 3.

    I cannot remember my first drink I was that young or that drunk....

    But my parents brought me up with alcohol at special times like Xmas and bank holidays when we had a big get-together with family and friends etc. We would also play cards for small stakes and I really loved the chance to be "a young adult" staying up really late and knowing there was no school tomorrow.

    I think alcohol has become the focus of a lack of self control amongst many young people. Many of these kids are unhappy, unsettled, searching for something that our clinically cold society fails to provide. We have given them too many mixed messages, too much unbridled information, and too much inference on the importance of being young.

    Childhood is a time to explore and be curious. It is a time to be innocent and to absorb everything until it fits into the puzzle that is life. Nowadays we are hell bent on speeding up the process of growing up and have forgotten all the subtlety of being young. We are thinking years ahead when we should be thinking now.

    There will always be casualties from alcohol because it is not a chemical that always lets you know when you have had enough. Sometimes it will deliver the sucker punch to your stomach but often it will let you go until you are helplessly immobile and an embarrassment to all but your best friends. Sometimes it will take you even further than that.

    But it is still alcohol, a substance that can be very good for you as long as you know when to stop. It doesn't matter what we do as a child as long as it teaches us to be sensible when we become an adult.

  • Comment number 4.

    This is starting to get rather silly...

  • Comment number 5.

    They just don't get it do they? Why do the Government think they should interfere in absolutely everything?

    I grew up drinking small quantities of wine form the age of about seven, and have enjoyed drinking with meals ever since.

    My sons have grown up the same, my elder son particularly having often enjoyed a small glass wine with Sunday night meals from an early age. Alcohol has no mystery to them, they do not consume it to prove that they are grown up, because it was never forbidden fruit.

    At our house no one gets drunk, in fact we all hate binge drinking. My son is now a student, and over 18, but still drinks sensibly.

    In this as in so many areas of life less regulation, less interference would actually be the most positive thing they could do.

  • Comment number 6.

    Obvious. Alcohol should be banned.
    they did it for hash and that worked.

    How does the BBC have two blogs here. this one and one on weed re-criminalisation .

    And no one notices that here there is no argument about just flat out banning alcohol.

    How come I cannot even discuss sensible tippling of a smokey kind when here ministers are encouraging people to let their kids try a substance that actually has a lethal toxic level.
    unlike that which I wish to partake in.

    Ban the booze, that'll teach the little lubbers

  • Comment number 7.


    ....How old were you when you had your first drink?

    I am very glad, that I was never given my first drink....

    ~Dennis Junior~

  • Comment number 8.


    [And by the way, I had my first drink aged 11: do I drink sensibly? Well... mostly.]

    I think that according to the information, you have relaying....Yes, I think that that you drink sensibly.

    ~Dennis Junior~

  • Comment number 9.

    Let's have a topic on this government thinking thagt banning everything is a good idea

  • Comment number 10.

    I myself had my first exposure to alcohol as a child, with whiskey and honey as a remedy for croup. (Yes, you can tell by my spelling, I'm American.) It must have made a bad impression. In regards to beer, my first exposure was a sip as a child, which made me not want to drink it again.

    I don't drink much at all, though I do enjoy some liqueurs at times. (Oddly enough I tried an English beer once, and it was somewhat good...)

  • Comment number 11.

    One question that really has to be allowed here: why is it does the British public accept to be patronised in such a provocative way. Many people seem to agree that this is a terrible nanny society. Why then doesn't it change. Why is there no real political struggle to get rid of this attitude?

  • Comment number 12.

    It makes no difference long term.

    Kids who drink prior to 18 do control themselves better than those who dont initially, once people hit about 20-21 though there is no difference. Those who still dont control themselves at that age are as likely to be early adopters or later ones, all are idiots.

  • Comment number 13.


    It is indeed a pity that we continue to let this Government wade ever deeper into our personal lives. It is equally unfortunate that we tend to listen to the words of one person so much, even though they may be a so called "expert". Alcohol is alcohol - what more needs to be said?

    Perhaps it is indicative of the collapse of democracy in the UK that it is not responding to those it represents. When you are voted in by less than a quarter of those who voted against you or abstained it rather negates the need to pay attention to anyone does it?

    We need electoral reform - now there is a topic for this blog.

  • Comment number 14.

    When I was a child it was when you got a job which was usually 14 or 15 then now we keep them in school so keeping them children and not encourage them to mature so we have endless aging juveniles not just on the street but in the media look at Ross. But we scream when they go and have sex and have children and drink and take drugs an do not want to grow up we can not have it both ways we stop them maturing then we have this drink as for parents allowing children to drink, are these questions written by those who have never had children, life is about experiment and if that is getting legless before the law says you should so be it. Laws are to be broken are they not and if we can not go in to the homes of the chosen one then they can not come into our lives this Govenment well media is so inferring on some classes of this country while those who are the real problem the wine swilling middle class are ignored look closer to home and demand answers there

  • Comment number 15.

    Funny - I thought gripe water give to some babies had alchol in it. So some start drinking shortly after birth.

  • Comment number 16.

    I scared myself when I got very drunk at 18
    & have been teatotal ever since.

    Last thursday I turned 50 so decided to give it another go (all those thousands of drinkers cannot be wrong can they)

    Tried drinking Rum.......cannot see the point.

    Back on the tea!

    Signed up for snowboarding lessons instead.

  • Comment number 17.

    I am an alcoholic who drank to excess for 35 years and came close to death. After asking for help I have not drunk alcohol for 8 years.

    Until such time as the Government's Chief Medical Officer and influential charities such as Alcohol Concern understand the true nature of the 'alcohol problem' in this country, red-herrings such as this will continue to be put forward without any benefit.

    It is neither understood, nor, more relevantly, accepted, that there are essentially 3 types drinker in the UK problem. Firstly, those who over indulge, secondly, those who self-medicate and, thirdly, the alcoholic. The first category is about lack of personal responsibility and the latter two categories need expert help; of which there is tragic dearth in the UK.

    The only category a pre 16 ban might help are those without personal responsibility. The total failure of prohibition in the US in the 1930's and current drug legislation suggest it would be, at best, of no help.

    I was not given alcohol at home and had responsible parents who explained the problems alcohol could bring. Didn't do me much good-:)

  • Comment number 18.

    As a teenager in suburban London in the 80s we often went to the pub aged 16 and up.
    The difference was we drank beer .... not alcopops and spirits.

    We did stupid things (and did more at college later) but I believe the new sweet alcopops are a disaster for kids. Many people I grew up with didn't drink much because they didn't like the taste. That hardly applies now.

    In alot of ways we got to feel "grown up" by being in the pub .... in the knowledge that if we as kids played up we'd get thrown out.

    And then in my 30s when I mentionned to my Dad how liberal he was when I was 16, he replied that no, not liberal. Just practical. Better me drinking a beer in the pub than a bottle of vodka in the park!

    Treat teenagers like grown ups and they may just act like them.
    Treat them like kids and they certainly will act like them.

    The nanny state has got to stop. If people haven't realised it's not working, they're not looking.

  • Comment number 19.

    People have to start taking responsibility for their own action. Try it. If you over indulge and kill yourself, tough cookies!

    People make their own choices. It's time they started accepting the consequences.

    Oh, and artisticHamilton , there is also the social drinkers who know how to control themselves and not fall into any of your narrow three categories!

    Alec, Edinburgh

  • Comment number 20.

    "Oh, and artisticHamilton , there is also the social drinkers who know how to control themselves and not fall into any of your narrow three categories!

    Alec, Edinburgh"

    Alec, Please have another read, I said that the types reflect the UK problem, not UK drinkers. Also, I would not be crass enough to put on a public site my categorizations - I simply pass on US medical research.

    Finally, I described a fourth category, those who put forward ill-informed and unworkable ideas.

  • Comment number 21.


    I read your first post with interest and it does fit with my experience of problem drinkers. I also agree that the UK is drastically ill equipped to deal with its alcoholics in whatever guise they appear. Whilst campaigns like "drink aware" seem so apposite to the narrow minded health mandarins who are they directed at? If you cannot control the need to pick up a bottle of alcohol then how is "drink aware" going to help.

    Governments do a lot of stone skimming, when a big plop in the lake is what is required. Brewers and distilleries make huge amounts of money and it would seem quite appropriate for them to seriously fund research into alcoholism, and support for the victims. Anyone who has seen someone caught in the alcoholism spiral would know how desperate a person can become presuming they survive long enough.

  • Comment number 22.

    #19 Talbot83

    Nice world you live in ... where everything is 'black and white' - let me allow you a 'wee keek' into mine.

    Mom was an alcoholic from a young age - died from cancer, her small comforts in life were whisky and Rothmans ... she loved them both equally. The ciggies made her throat very hoarse and the whisky made it 'go away' - so she'd smoke even more ciggies. Fifty three years old, doublely incontinent, unable to eat except through a tube, unable to walk my sister and I took turns carrying her to her bed at night. Amazingly she smoked and drank heavily to the very bitter, undignified, end.

    After death it emerged that mum had been evacuated during the war, never out of Edinburgh she and her younger brother were placed with a burly farmer and his family. First off they told mom and her bro that their parents had abandoned them and didn't want them back - they have to work hard to pay for their 'up keep' .. The family stole presents, cards, postal orders, pocket money, parcels, clothes, photos, and treated them like chattel - both were beaten, chronically under fed, and sexually abused. Mom was in the dairy one day, the farmer beat her up and raped her, my uncle walked in on this evil and attacked him with a pitchfork.

    My uncle never ever forgave himself for not watching over his sister better - he became a self-brewing alcoholic; both drank to 'ease the pain'.

    In the 60's talking about painful, personal stuff was a 'no-no' while drinking was 'just being sociable'. My dad was a funeral director and mortician, he would prep the bodies - apparently he was especially good with children and babies - chronic alcoholic (died aged 65, liver failure) ... In 1988 granny retired, mum finally told her about their experience as child evacuees, she went from T-Total to alcoholic in a year. Result mom never told another living soul.

    Mom called whisky, 'her medicine' and never drank before 6pm, she always kept a whisky on her bedside table at night. Ironically no one in our home town knew or believed our mom was a chronic life-long alcoholic when she died. Our uncle told us about their experiences as wartime evacuees at our mothers wake, a skilled and respected surgeon and binge drinker till he died.

    My first drink was a sherry or two at New Year aged 12, then cider and shandy. While I have indulged in my fair share of over indulging (ex-HM Forces) I now limit myself to one or two Caesers/Bloody Marys ...

    None of the above family members ever asked for help, they didn't want peoples sympathy, after all who would have believe them then? Anyway after all those years what good would it do 'digging up' all that 'dirt'?

    My sister and I were so used to seeing people regulary drunk that we didn't actually realise so may of our family were 'alcoholics', until we were in our 20's!

    The stigma of alcoholism is huge, lots of people think it is 'hillarious', or they rush to judgement, an alcoholic is someones mom, dad, sister, daughter, granny, wife, husband, lover, partner, loved one ... it destroys families and robs children of their childhood. I, for one, should know.

    Pidgeon holes are for pidgeons, not people.

    If this has been long and boring - sorry, tough cookie.

  • Comment number 23.

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