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National survey reveals Aussie school students drinking less alcohol

Wednesday 9 November, 2016

Alcohol consumption by students is decreasing, with around a quarter of 12 to 17-year-olds drinking in the past month compared to 37 per cent in 2008.

The latest Australian Secondary Students' Alcohol and Drug (ASSAD) survey reveals 15 per cent of 12 to 17-year-old students consumed alcohol in the past seven days. In 2011 that figure was 17 per cent and in 2008, it was 23 per cent.

Almost half of students had consumed alcohol in the year preceding the survey, while only 32 per cent of students reported never drinking alcohol.

Just over 23,000 secondary students aged between 12 and 17 years participated in the 2014 ASSAD Survey.

Conducted every three years since 1984, the survey is a collaboration between the Cancer Councils in Victoria, South Australia, Queensland and Tasmania, state and territory governments and the Australian Government Department of Health. It is led by Cancer Council Victoria's Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer (CBRC).

Another report using the 2014 ASSAD data, ‘Australian secondary school students' use of tobacco in 2014', was released in November 2015. This report showed a similar trend in the behaviour of adolescents, with smoking rates amongst Australian secondary school students the lowest since surveys began more than 30 years ago.

Key survey findings:

  • In 2014 almost half of all secondary school students had consumed alcohol in the year preceding the survey, 25% for the past month and 15% for the past week.
  • 5% of 12-17 year olds reported drinking five or more drinks on at least one of the past seven days, with 9% of 16-year-olds and 17% of 17-year-olds drinking at this level.
  • Alcohol consumption appears to be decreasing, with 15% of adolescents aged 12 to 17 years consuming alcohol in the week before the survey, down from 17% in 2011 and 23% in 2008.
  • Premixed drinks are the choice of 35% of current drinkers with spirits popular with 21%. A third (29%) of all males drank beer compared with 5% of females. Alcoholic cider is the choice for 8% of current drinkers.

The survey has noted considerable change in adolescents' alcohol use over the past three decades. For 12 to 15-year-olds, the prevalence of current drinking declined during the 1980s only to increase during the following decade with prevalence peaking in 2002. However since 2002 the proportion of 12 to 15 year olds drinking has been decreasing and in 2014 was at its lowest point since the survey began.

In the 2014 survey, students were also asked about their experiences of any negative consequences of drinking alcohol in the past year. 61 per cent of current drinkers experienced at least one negative outcome from drinking, including vomiting (37%), arguing (24%) or trying drugs (21%).

Students were asked about their use of smoking related devices for the first time in the 2014 survey, including electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes).

One in five 16 and 17 year olds (19.5% and 22.3%) has ever used an e-cigarette, with 5% of 17 year olds using them in the past four weeks alone. Of students who had used an e-cigarette, 39 per cent did not know whether it contained nicotine or not.

Cannabis was the most commonly used illicit substance with 16 per cent of students aged between 12 and 17 ever using cannabis and 7 per cent using it in the month before the survey.

The proportion of students using cannabis in the past week, past month or in their lifetime had not changed between 2008 and 2014 or between 2011 and 2014.

Among all students, around two per cent had used amphetamines other than for medical reasons at some time in their lives. Lifetime use of amphetamines was highest among older students with four per cent of 17 year olds reporting ever using amphetamines. While lifetime use of amphetamines decreased significantly between 2008 (4%) and 2014 (2%), there was no change between 2011 (3%) and 2014.

Principal Research Fellow at CBRC, Associate Professor Vicki White said the significant decrease in the proportion of 12 to 17 year olds who were current drinkers between the 2014 and 2008 surveys is encouraging, as it builds on the decline seen from 2011.

"Identifying the relative role of factors associated with the reductions in regular drinking for 12 to 17 year olds is beyond the scope of this study but it's a concern still that so many children are not heeding the national health guidelines which recommend no alcohol consumption for children under 18 years of age."