Alcohol charity urges parents to talk to kids about Exam celebration plans as research shows children in Ireland are starting to drink earlier than ever before

Alcohol Action Ireland, the national charity for alcohol-related issues, urges parents to talk openly about their children’s celebratory plans once exams come to an end as new research reveals that children in Ireland begin drinking at a younger age than a decade ago.

Alcohol Action Ireland Director Fiona Ryan said: “It’s natural after the stress of the past few months for students to want to let their hair down and celebrate the end of exams. For a significant number of young people, these plans will include drinking, though for others it may not.

Ms Ryan added: “Recent research shows that young people in Ireland are beginning to drink at an earlier age than ever before. Children born in 1980 were on average 16 years old when they began drinking, while children born just a decade later began drinking at 14 years of age on average.

“It shouldn’t surprise us that young people are drinking at an earlier age: alcohol has been increasingly affordable – it was 50% more affordable in 2004 than it was in 1996. During the same period, the liberalisation of licensing laws resulted in an explosion in the number of retailers selling alcohol at pocket money prices – the number of off licenses alone increased by 330% between 1998 and 2008.

“This is a worrying trend and one which needs to be tackled without delay. Irish teenagers have a major problem with drunkenness, with a recent European survey finding that almost half of Irish 15 and 16-year-olds report binge drinking in the previous month.

“We already know there is a link between the earlier a person starts drinking and development of problem alcohol use in later life. Drinking at a young age can also cause long term and irreversible damage to the developing brain.

Speaking as an estimated 116,000 young people finish their exams, Ms Ryan added: “It’s important to recognise that your child may end up in situations in which they may feel uncomfortable or scared as a result of either their own or other people’s drinking.

“We urge parents to talk openly with their children about what their plans for are the evening and formulate a simple ‘Stay Safe’ guide with them, including finding out what their plans are and with whom.

“Encouraging children to call if they need a lift home, rather than getting in the car with a friend who may have been drinking is also a good idea – as is letting your child know they can call home without fear of recrimination if they feel unsafe or unwell.”

Notes to the Editor

  • Children born in 1980 were on average 16 years old when they began drinking, while children born just a decade later began drinking on average at 14 years of age. (Smyth B et all, 2011, Journal of Alcohol and Alcoholism)
  • In the most recent survey of drinking among European 15 and 16-year-olds, 44% of Irish girls and 42% of Irish boys reported binge-drinking in the last month (ESPAD, 2007). Over half (54%) reported being drunk at least once by the age of 16. The survey also identified “a major issue around drunkenness”.

For further information or comment contact:
Alcohol Action Ireland Communications Officer Cathy Gray on (01) 878 0610 or 087 995 0186