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No time to lean on the bar - binge drinking by older teens a reality that needs to be addressed

Monday 11 February, 2013

Older teenagers are continuing to drink at levels which are risky for their health and wellbeing, and pressure by the alcohol industry to hamper initiatives aimed at decreasing drinking is socially irresponsible, according to CEO of the Cancer Council Victoria, Todd Harper.

Figures released by Cancer Council Victoria show while overall use of alcohol has been declining across all age groups for the past six years (from 86% of all students in 2005 to 74% in 2011 having ever consumed alcohol), among those who have had a drink in the past 7 days, risky drinking has continued at a similar pace for the older age group – 48% of 16 to 17-year-old current drinkers had consumed more than four drinks on one occasion in the past seven days in 2011 (compared to 47% in 2008).

"We know the drinking patterns of adolescents in the final years of secondary school can be predictive of their drinking levels in the early years of adulthood, so the fact that 16 to 17-year-olds who drink are as likely to binge drink as current drinkers in 2008 is concerning. It means another generation is inheriting risky drinking behaviour.

"When 45% of all current drinkers aged 16-17 years say they intend to get drunk on most occasions when they drink alcohol, we urgently need to address the culture of drinking in Australia and this includes attitudes towards alcohol and better awareness of the health effects.

Mr Harper pointed out that alcohol harms were increasing in the community. For example in Victoria, alcohol related hospital admissions have increased by almost 50% over the past decade, from around 17,000 in 2001 to over 25,000 in 2012. The number of alcohol affected people attended to by ambulances tripled over the past decade, and the number of people presenting at emergency departments because they were injured or sick after drinking too much increased by 93%.

Mr Harper said that while a decline in drinking overall by high school students was encouraging it should be remembered that the National Health and Medical Research Council recommends no alcohol consumption for this age so the fact so many young people continue to drink, and drink at risky levels, is a cause for concern.

"These young people are being exposed to serious health risks including damage to their developing brains. More action is needed to address the availability of cheap alcohol, better inform consumers about alcohol harms and restrict promotion of alcohol to young people particularly during live TV sport coverage," said Mr Harper.