Lebron JamesPro NBA player LeBron James recently revealed to reporters that his underaged children frequently drink wine at home with him and his wife. The Los Angeles Lakers ballplayer said that his two oldest children, aged 14 and 11, are mature enough to drink wine — a comment that met backlash from a number of fans on social media. Though it’s well known that children and teens in many other countries around the world regularly drink wine and other alcoholic beverages, evidence suggests that early exposure to alcohol can increase the risk for addiction later in life and may warrant the need for professional alcohol rehab treatment.

LeBron’s Love for Wine is No Secret

LeBron James is well known for being a wine connoisseur and regularly shares photos of the wines he drinks on Instagram. Shortly after signing on with the Lakers in July 2018, LeBron spent $4,000 on wine and shared his wine of choice in a video on social media. LeBron then went on a 2-week cleanse during which he says he abstained from alcohol — an act he quotes as being highly challenging given the ballplayer’s immense love for wine.

For those who follow LeBron on social media, the pro athlete’s announcement on supplying his underaged children with alcohol may not have come as a surprise. However, many health experts argue that underage drinking is a risk factor for alcohol dependence.

Dangers of Underage Drinking

The legal drinking age in the U.S. is 21, though research suggests that the brain continues to develop through age 25 and that consuming alcohol earlier can interfere with healthy brain development. Children and teens who drink alcohol regularly may be highly vulnerable to alcohol-induced brain damage, since the brain is still developing. Underage alcohol use has been linked to poor performance at school, intellectual and behavioral impairment, and mental health disorders such as depression.

Evidence also suggests that underage alcohol use is more likely to kill youth than all illegal drugs combined. High-risk sexual encounters, sexual assault, drunk driving, and suicide are just some negative consequences associated with underage drinking. However, delaying the early onset of alcohol use can reduce the risk for these types of problems among youth.

Early Exposure to Alcohol is a Risk Factor for Addiction

Young people who start drinking alcohol before the age of 15 are 4 times more likely to become alcohol-dependent at some point in their lives compared to those who try alcohol for the first time at age 20 or older. While it’s possible that genetic factors may contribute to the onset of early drinking and alcohol dependence, environmental factors also play a major role — such as easy accessibility to alcohol in the home and family acceptance of underage alcohol use.

In the case of LeBron’s children, it’s possible that these very same environmental factors could end up playing a role in future alcohol dependence and addiction.