Children and young people are particularly vulnerable to alcohol-related harms and risks, as their bodies and brains are still developing.
Far from being a rite of passage, drinking alcohol may well serve to delay the development of vital coping, personal and social skills; project young people into risky situations and lay the ground-work for future physical and mental health difficulties.
For information on alcohol’s impact on a young person’s mental health and development, visit mentaldrinking.ie
A study carried out by the Health Promotion Research Centre at NUI Galway, commissioned by Alcohol Action Ireland, found that Irish children are exposed to large volumes of alcohol marketing, which increases their likelihood of drinking alcohol and engaging in risky drinking behaviour.
- 64% of 13 to 17-year-olds reported that they drank alcohol previously: 53.5% of 13 to 15-year-olds and 74.6% of 16 to 17-year-olds.
- Half of those children who reported drinking alcohol (50%) were drinking on a monthly or more regular basis.
- More than a third (37.1%) of those children who reported drinking alcohol had engaged in binge drinking in the previous month, including half (50.2%) of those aged 16 and 17-years-old.
- Four in ten (40.5%) of those children who reported drinking alcohol had been drunk once or more in the previous month – almost a quarter (23.6%) of 13 to 15-year-olds and half (51.4%) of 16 to 17-year-olds.
- More than half (52.8%) of those children who reported drinking alcohol had been ‘really drunk’ at some point. While 27% of 13 to 15-year-olds said they had been really drunk before, this increased to 71% for 16 to 17-year-olds.
- Among those children aged 13 to 17-years-old, girls were as likely as boys to have drank alcohol previously, to binge drink and to have been drunk or really drunk.
- One in ten 13 to 15-year-olds stated that they intend to drink in the next month, and 20% reported intention to drink in the following year, while 51% of 16 to 17-years-olds reported that they intend to drink in the next month and 68% reported that they intend to drink in the next year.
Children who reported that they drank alcohol and, that on the last occasion, that they bought alcohol themselves, were asked to report where they bought the alcohol. Overall, 116 children reported that they bought alcohol for themselves. Of these, 42% reported they bought it in an off licence; 22% reported they bought it in a pub, 12% in a shop, 11% in a supermarket, 10% in a nightclub and 3% in a sports club.
According to the Irish Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) Study 2014:
There was an overall decrease in reported levels of smoking and drunkenness and an increase in levels of never drinking between 2010 and 2014, according to the latest HBSC study, which involved Irish children from the age of 10 to 17-years-old.
- Never drinking: Overall, 58% of children report that they have never had an alcoholic drink, an increase from 2010 (52%).
- Had an alcoholic drink in the last 30 days: Overall, 20% of children report that they have had an alcoholic drink in the last 30 days, which remains stable from 2010 (22%).
- Drunkenness: Overall, 21% of children report having been ’really drunk’, which is a decrease from 2010 (31%).
- Drunk in the last 30 days: Overall, 10% of children report having been drunk in the last 30 days, this is a decrease from 2010 (20%).
While the decreases in risky drinking behaviour noted above in the HBSC are very welcome, it is important to note that the headline figures above encompass children aged from 10 to 17-years-old. While alcohol consumption does not seem to be a feature in the lives of the majority of children aged 14 or under, the picture – across every category of drinking behaviour – changes dramatically when they reach 15.
For example, while almost two in ten Irish boys aged 10 to 11-years-old report drinking alcohol previously in the HBSC study, that increases to seven out of ten for boys aged 15 to 17. Roughly one in ten Irish girls aged 10 to 11-years-old have had an alcoholic drink, but that increases to seven out of ten for girls aged 15 to 17.
For levels of drunkenness, there were improvements across all age groups, including the 15 to 17-year-old bracket, between 2010 and 2014, but again there are large increases in risky drinking behaviour when you hit that age group.
Overall, 21% of boys aged 10 to 17 report having been ’really drunk’, but that figure doubles when you look at the 15 to 17-year-olds alone.
The HBSC research, along with the Alcohol Marketing and Young People’s Drinking Behaviour in Ireland study, would suggest there is a clear age of drinking ’initiation’ in Ireland and risky drinking behaviour is commonplace among Irish children who drink alcohol from the age of 15 onwards.
According to the Health Research Board’s National Alcohol Diary Survey (2014):
- Almost two-thirds (63.9%) of males and half (51.4%) of females started drinking alcohol before the age of 18 years.
- Almost two thirds (64.3%) of 18 to 24-year-old drinkers who participated in the survey consumed six or more standard drinks on a typical drinking session.
- Among 18 to 24-year-olds, 28% of young men and 22% of young women consume their low-risk weekly guidelines in just one sitting.
- Monthly binge drinking most common among the 18 to 24-year-old age group (at 60%).
- Harmful drinking is highest among the 18 to 24-year-old age group (at 75%).
- Dependent drinking is highest among the 18 to 24-year-old age group (at 15%).
- Beer was the most common type of alcohol consumed by men of all age groups (76.7%). Spirits were the most common type of alcohol consumed by young women aged 18 to 24 (59.9%). Cider was consumed by more than one-in-five young adults (22.5%).
In its My World Survey, Headstrong looked at the relationship between young people’s drinking habits and their mental health. The survey captured the views of almost 14,500 young people, making it the first national study of youth mental health for those aged 12 to 25-years-old in Ireland. It found that:
- Approximately 48% of sixth years at second level and over 60% of young adults reported drinking behaviour outside of the normal range.
- Excessive drinking has very negative consequences for the mental health and adjustment of young people.
- For all young people, depression and anxiety were significantly higher when a young person engaged in harmful drinking or was classified as possibly alcohol-dependent.
- There is clear evidence that excessive use of alcohol is associated with poor mental health and well-being.
- For young adults, strong links were found between excessive drinking and suicidal behaviour.