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Children’s Introduction to Alcohol Use: Sips and Tastes


  • This study was supported by Grant R01 AA12342 from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Reprint requests: John E. Donovan, PhD, Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, 3811 O’Hara Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15213; Fax: 412-246-6940; E-mail:


Background:  Sipping or tasting alcohol is one of the earliest alcohol use behaviors in which young children engage, yet there is relatively little research on this behavior. The present research describes the prevalence of sipping or tasting in a community sample of children, examines the sociodemographic correlates and social contexts of this behavior, and tests whether variables reflecting psychosocial problem-behavior proneness, that predict adolescent drinking, account for this behavior.

Methods:  A sample of 452 children (238 girls) aged 8 or 10 and their families was drawn from Allegheny County PA using targeted-age directory sampling and random digit dialing procedures. Children were interviewed using computer-assisted interviews. Logistic regression analyses were used to examine the univariate and multivariate correlates of sipping/tasting.

Results:  Thirty-nine percent of the sample had only sipped or tasted alcohol (35% of 8 year olds and 48% of 10 year olds), while 6% reported having had a drink of alcohol (5% and 7%, respectively). African-American children were less likely than White children to be sippers. Neither gender nor mother’s education related to sipping status. Most sipping was done in a family context. Sipping/tasting did not generally relate to variables reflecting psychosocial proneness for problem behavior. Instead, the variables most predictive of sipping/tasting were perceived parents’ drinking status, perceived parents’ approval for child sipping, mother’s drinking frequency, and children’s attitudes toward sipping/tasting alcohol.

Conclusions:  Young children’s sipping/tasting of alcohol reflects parental modeling of alcohol use and increased opportunities to try alcohol in the home rather than deliberate family socialization of alcohol use, and appears not to be a precocious manifestation of a psychosocial proneness to engage in problem behavior.