One in five teens drinking at riskier levels

One in five teens is drinking alcohol at risky levels higher than ever previously seen and parents are being urged to cut alcohol supplies to teens in an effort to curb binge drinking.

Overall, levels of teen alcohol consumption have decreased in recent years. However, those who are drinking are doing so at much higher levels than previous generations.

Recent studies from Curtin University and UNSW have found heavy drinking teens are gaining easy access to alcohol supplies from family, friends and bottle shops. Key links between parental supply and later binge drinking and alcohol dependence were results of a six-year study by UNSW’ s National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC).

Curtin University’ s National Drug Research Institute’s Young Australians Alcohol Reporting System (YAARS) study found boys aged 14-19 years who were part of the heaviest drinking cohort were consuming 17 standard drinks per drinking session. Girls in comparison were drinking 14 per session.

Lead author Dr Tina Lam said this group of teens was studied because there were a lot of unknowns about their consumption of alcohol and how it impacts their lives.

” We know from other studies that rates of alcohol-related emergency department presentations in Australian teenagers is twice as high as for other Australians and far too many ambulance call-outs for alcohol-related incidents involve those under the age of 18,” Dr Lam said.

“These heavy drinking sessions are the ones that are associated with the greatest harms – we wanted to know details such as exactly how much they were consuming, where they were drinking, where they obtained the alcohol and the range of harms experienced,” she added.

Nearly half (47 per cent) of the 3500 teens involved in the study said they had been a passenger in a car driven by someone affected by alcohol and 20 per cent had done so three or more times in the past year. More than one in ten teens surveyed had also presented at a hospital Emergency Department as a result of an alcohol-related injury.

Teens admitted they tended to drink at private gatherings and sourced their alcohol from friends, family and bottle shops without too much trouble.

However, parents who thought it was best to supply their teens with alcohol and supervise their drinking were putting their children at risk of binge drinking, according to UNSW Professor Richard Mattick.

Prof. Mattick and a team of researchers at the NDARC followed 2000 NSW teens for six years, tracking alcohol consumption and parental supply.

Prof. Mattick said by age 17 teens who had previously received alcohol from parents in younger years were more likely to participate in binge drinking, show symptoms of dependence and experience alcohol-related injuries.

“These results contrast with the results we obtained when the children were 15-year-olds when parental supply was associated with drinking but not with drinking to excess,” he said.

He said the consumption of alcohol did not continue in moderation as teens aged; in contrast, there was an increase in drinking problems.

“There was no evidence to support the view that in the long term, when teens are on the cusp of adulthood, that parental supply is anyway protective. Rather, to reduce the risks of alcohol-related harms parents should avoid supplying alcohol to children.”