Changing parent attitudes reason for drop in teen drinking: Deakin study

Media release
12 January 2018

Australian teenagers are reporting far lower drinking rates than their peers two decades ago, mostly because alcohol is now harder for them to access, a new Deakin University study has found.

The research, completed in collaboration with the Murdoch Children's Research Institute, showed a reduced tendency for parents to supply alcohol to their children, and more outlets tightening up their restrictions on serving minors, were the likely cause of a dramatic drop in teen alcohol use.

The study, published today in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review, analysed survey data collected from more than 41,000 teenagers in Victoria, Western Australia and Queensland between 1999 and 2015.

Researchers used the 'Communities That Care Youth Survey' data to identify trends in adolescent reports of alcohol, tobacco and cannabis use - adjusted for demographic and socioeconomic factors.

They found that use of all three substances fell dramatically between 1999 and 2015, in line with findings from other Australian health surveys over the same time period.

When examining the probable causes for this reported reduction in teen drinking, the new Deakin study found parental supply of alcohol to adolescents had dropped to 12 per cent from a high of 22 per cent in 2007.

Underage purchase of alcohol also dropped from 12 per cent at the start of the survey period, down to 1 per cent by the end.

Lead researcher Professor John Toumbourou, Chair in Health Psychology at Deakin’s School of Psychology, said this was a huge public health success story for Australia.

"It shows parents are making radical changes in their attitude to underage drinking and also how they model their own drinking behaviour," he said.

"This is a game changer, we can see that parents are taking on the advice from our national health guidelines that even a small amount of alcohol is harmful to teenagers.

"And we believe this is what has seen Australia go from having one of the highest rates of alcohol use by high school students in the world, to one of the lowest.

"It highlights that substantial reductions in alcohol and drug use are possible across large youth populations."

Professor Toumbourou said the findings could now help inform future intervention programs to maintain a decline in teen alcohol use.

"This shows that programs such as school drug education, restrictive underage purchase laws, market regulation, and parent education are all critical in ensuring we protect our young people from drug and alcohol harm," he said.

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