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Rate of teens abstaining from alcohol almost doubles in 13 years, study finds

Rate of teens abstaining from alcohol almost doubles in 13 years, study finds


The number of youngsters who say they are binge drinking has also fallen, with abstinence more likely in households where English is not the only language


Source: The Guardian

Melissa Davey

14 July 2015


The drinking patterns of teenage Australians has shifted more drastically than any other age group, according to a study which found the number of 14 to 17-year-olds abstaining from alcohol had almost doubled in the past 13 years.


Education about the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and the negative effects of alcohol was behind the shift, public health experts say.


While 28% of 14- to 17-year-olds reported abstaining from drinking in 2001, this increased to 57.3% in 2013, the study released by the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research said on Wednesday.


The number of Australians aged 14-17 who are binge drinking has halved over the past 13 years, a study claims. Graph: Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education, and the Centre for Alcohol Research


By analysing data from 120,000 respondents to the national drug strategy household survey, researchers saw a small but significant increase in the overall number of Australians who reported being a lifetime abstainer from alcohol.


In 2001, 9.4% of respondents said they were lifetime abstainers, compared with 14.1% in 2014, with teenagers driving the increase, the study found. Abstinence was more likely in households where a language other than English was spoken.


But despite an overall decline in alcohol consumption, the top 10% of drinkers were responsible for 53.2% of total alcohol consumption in 2013, up from 48.9% 13 years ago.


There was also a significant increase in the number of occasions where those aged between 30 and 59 reported drinking 20 or more alcoholic drinks.


However, similar levels of binge-drinking among teenagers had declined by 10% since 2001.


“The findings of this study provide a complex picture of changes in Australian drinking,” said the study, which was funded by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education.


“At the general population level consumption has been more stable, with some evidence of increasing rates of very heavy episodic drinking among older adults.”


The results echoed other recent studies, including the Australian secondary schools survey, which found youth drinking was in decline. Research from the US and UK shows a similar trend.


The director of the McCusker Centre for Action on Alcohol and Youth, Professor Mike Daube, said the decline in drinking was welcome, given alcohol-related harm remained a major cause of mortality and morbidity.


“I have no doubt that one of the main reasons for this has been the continuing public focus on alcohol problems, strong public education, and ever-increasing evidence on the harms alcohol can cause, particularly for young people,” Daube said.


“The media can take justifiable credit for the role they have played in publicising the problems caused by alcohol. And we are clearly reaping the benefits of being a multicultural society, with alcohol use much lower in young people from cultures in which this is not the norm.”


Smoking, cannabis and other illicit drug use had also been declining among school students in recent decades, Daube said.


However, he cautioned against complacency.


Alcohol consumption continued to contribute significantly to poor health and related problems such as accidents, domestic and public violence, crime, diseases and broader social dysfunction, National Health and Medical Research data shows.


“These problems have not been solved,” he said.