Alcohol, children & young people

As outlined in our strategic plan, Alcohol Action Ireland believes that all young people are entitled to a childhood free from alcohol harm, and that protecting children from harm is not just a public health issue but a human rights one.  


The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children have the right to survive, to be protected from harm and exploitation, to develop fully and to participate in decisions which affect their wellbeing. Article 24 of the UNCRC recognises children’s right to ‘the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health and to facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health’. Article 24 further provides that State must ‘strive to ensure that no child is deprived of his or her right of access to such healthcare services.’ 


As per these children’s rights standards, young people must be protected from the impact of alcohol-related harms that include issues such as: 

  • Pre-natal exposure to alcohol can leave children compromised from a neurobiological perspective, resulting in problems carried with them throughout their lives. Ireland is estimated to have the third highest prevalence of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) in the world. 
  • In Ireland, an estimated 1 in 6 young people are impacted by parental problem alcohol use, an adverse childhood experience that can have lasting impacts into adulthood. 
  • Every year in Ireland, 60,000 children in Ireland start drinking. Starting to drink alcohol as a child, which is the norm rather than the exception in Ireland, is more likely to lead to heavy episodic drinking and is a known risk factor for later dependency. 
  • Irish people aged 18 to 24 have the highest rates of binge drinking in the European Union, a trajectory that begins, of course, in teenage years. 


Alcohol use in the home 

Growing up in a home with parental problem alcohol use has been recognised internationally as an adverse childhood experience for over 20 years, and the physical and mental consequences of this issue have also been studied. 


In Ireland, at least 1 in 6 young people suffer the unnecessary impact of alcohol-related harms at home. Therefore it is likely that today more than 200,000 children in Ireland are living with the traumatic circumstances of a childhood where parental problem alcohol use (PPAU) is a frequent event. It is further estimated that there are around 400,000 people in Ireland today who are adult children from alcohol-impacted families. This means that approximately 600,000 people across all age ranges in Ireland may be suffering because of the impact of alcohol harm in their family. 


Silent Voices, an initiative of Alcohol Action Ireland, seeks to highlight the harm caused by PPAU and its impact across the lifespan. 

Read more about the Silent Voices campaign here: /campaigns/silent-voices/ 


Marketing to young people 

Alcohol is one of the most heavily marketed products with the annual spend on alcohol marketing conservatively estimated at €115m in Ireland alone. That’s why the role of alcohol marketing in encouraging, normalising and glamourising alcohol consumption among young people cannot be underestimated. The international literature is clear – the greater the level of exposure to, or engagement with, alcohol marketing, the more likely young people are to drink alcohol. 


Research commissioned by Alcohol Action Ireland and carried out by the Health Promotion Research Centre in NUI Galway 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. 


Ireland’s Public Health Alcohol Act (PHAA) contains provisions to restrict alcohol advertising to young people. If Ireland is serious about protecting young people, recently enacted measures must be considered as just the first step in addressing alcohol marketing as they do not include areas such as sports sponsorship or internet marketing. The PHAA also has provision for restrictions around the content of alcohol advertising which would address the issues of promoting the glamorous myths around alcohol. However, this has not yet been commenced. 


The recent report on the Effect of the BAI Children’s Communications Code highlights just how prominent alcohol promotion is in Irish children’s lives, with Diageo the number four advertiser to children aged 4-17. Again, the PHAA makes provision for a broadcast watershed for alcohol advertising in order to protect children. However, this measure – which would go a long way to dealing with the issue of children being exposed to alcohol ads – has also not been commenced.