To mark the holiday season, there have been a number of reports about the effect of alcohol (especially wine) on adult and child health. The British Medical Association has started a strong campaign against drinking, while the results of research show a much more balanced case for and against consumption.

No-one denies that drinking to excess, whether regularly or in binges, is bad for anyone, especially younger people. One question that exercises professionals is whether modest or moderate drinking leads directly to excessive consumption and even addiction. The evidence from psychological studies is that addiction is a personality trait, and that the particular substance or action to which people become addicted is largely a matter of chance. Certainly there is good evidence that addiction runs in families. There is, as usual, argument as to the relative importance of genetic influences and early experience. Probably both are important. In dysfunctional homes, there will be more opportunity and reason for children to experiment with ways of finding pleasure and avoiding pain. Few caring parents these days would think that giving alcohol, cigarettes or other social drugs to small children is a good idea. How far does this extend to teenagers? Can you stop them from getting drunk by watching them all the time, putting up the price of drink, or giving them anti-social behaviour orders? 

The debate about the suitable age for people to start drinking has been reopened by a paper from the Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson. This recommends that under-15s should drink no alcohol and that under-18s should drink only under supervision. He bases this finding on a survey which claims that half a million 11-15 year olds get drunk in any four week period. He blames parents for exposing children to alcohol, inadequate supervision and failure to engage with them. The Government are starting a major publicity campaign to address this issue. For the full report (published on 17 December) click here.

Other health professionals continue to follow the theory that most of us grew up with – that parents who drink moderately, and gradually introduce children to alcohol in a supportive environment tend to encourage moderate habits, Professor Ian Gilmore, president of the Royal College of Physicians notes that many problem drinkers are the children of excessive drinkers or teetotallers. He does however stress that not drinking alcohol at all remains the “healthiest option” for children.

There is certainly some scope for schools to be the source of information on safe drinking, and in particular to get older children to take a serious attitude it. Some schools go further, and encourage to seek out good wine, rather than cheap booze. has a story about the private Malvern St James girls’ school. They run wine appreciation evenings twice a term for pupils who are over 16. Teacher Rachel Huntley says "Certainly we have not had any instances of binge-drinking at the school, and the girls are very aware of the news stories and can see what happens outside the school. My personal view is that children who are introduced young, in a permissive atmosphere where there might be spirits, may form bad habits. But if you introduce them age 16 to wine in a controlled environment, this helps move them away from drinking Bacardi Breezers or fruit juices loaded with neat alcohol."

So what do you think? How should we help children to grow up with respect and appreciation for wine? What do you think promotes moderate drinking and what causes binging? Should there be a minimum price for alcohol or a change in the minimum age?