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Less under 18s drinking alcohol but more to be done

Young people are waiting longer before they try drinking alcohol, showing prevention efforts are working, but have a long way to go yet.

Key findings from the National Drug Strategy Household Survey released last week show that the age at which 14-24 year olds are having their first drink is being delayed, rising from 14.4 years to 15.7 years of age over the last decade and a half.

This news that more young people are waiting longer, and more are abstaining from alcohol is great news for the Australian community. We know that the younger a person drinks alcohol, the more likely they are to binge drink and have a problem with alcohol later in life. That’s why we recommend that no one under the age of 18 consume alcohol.

The proportion of young people aged 12-17 years old who are choosing not to drink has risen from 64% to 72% in just three years – showing trends in young people are heading the right direction.

But we need to maintain our prevention efforts – including increasing community awareness of alcohol harms and boosting measures such as legislation to give parents more control of their child’s access to alcohol. Those jurisdictions which are yet to introduce secondary supply legislation – WA, SA and ACT – must do so immediately to help protect young Australians. The report shows two-thirds of Australians support it.

Problems with the misuse of alcohol are not all about young people. In fact, 18-24 year olds were the most likely age group to drink at levels that put them at risk of lifetime harm (on average more than 2 drinks) according to the 2007 survey. Since then the proportion of people in that age group risky drinking has reduced from about 30 per cent to about 21 per cent. The age group most likely risky drink is now the 40-49 year olds.

It is pleasing to see an overall significant reduction in the amount of Australians of all ages drinking at risky levels over the last three years. These results, while they are encouraging, shouldn’t be viewed or portrayed as ‘job done’.

Of course many in Big Alcohol would have you believe otherwise, including the Brewer’s Association. Their CEO Denita Warn last week said the declining risky drinking rate dispelled “the myth” of an alcohol crisis. Unfortunately Big Alcohol will respond to these positive figures by trying to reverse them and have people drinking more, rather than less.

Australia is still very much in the grip of a dangerous love affair with booze. Alcohol costs us more than $15 billion a year, causes more harm to the community than illicit drugs and is an unacceptable burden on our health care system, our emergency services and on our society. How Big Alcohol can call something killing 3000 Australians a year a “myth” is beyond us.

Key findings of the 2013 National Drugs Strategy Household Survey

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