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Underage drinking

Underage drinking

April 20 2009

The HSE is today releasing new research as part of a campaign aimed at delaying the age at which young people start to drink.

The research, conducted as part of the HSE’s campaign in late 2008 and just released, reveals that most adults are aware that drinking before age 18 is a problem - 71% agree that this poses a health risk; 92% agree that it is a problem in Ireland; 63% disagree that it is okay for people to drink before age 18 (although 1 in five think it is okay).

“While the HSE campaign research looked at public attitudes towards drinking, the aim is to reduce the number of young people drinking alcohol and critically to delay the age at which they start, but it must be stressed that we all have a role to play in achieving this aim,” said Dr Joe Barry, public health specialist, HSE. “While young people on the one hand may seem very independent, their attitudes and behaviours are very often modelled on adult behaviour. Adults and parents can help address the issue of underage drinking by looking at their own drinking and by listening and talking to young people about alcohol.”

The research also found that 78% of adults disagree that it is okay for young people to get drunk and 55% know young people who get drunk regularly. However, adults greatly underestimate their role in influencing how young people drink; 55% of people think there is nothing they can do to stop young people drinking; only 20% of people agreed that their own drinking habits influence young people (45% disagreed with this) and only 30% agreed that they would drink less if they thought it might discourage young people from drinking.

More positively though, the campaign research showed many adults are prepared to engage with young people about drinking with 65% having already discussed this issue and 63% would be prepared to if they felt that person was in danger.

“Many parents and adults don’t know what they should do to encourage young people not to start drinking,” said Dr Barry. “It is key that parents make their feelings about underage drinking known and no matter what a teenager says, most actually do want their parents to discuss alcohol with them. Critically, they want to know the facts and they want limits set for them.”

Risks of Underage Drinking
There are many health risks associated with drinking alcohol as a teenager and evidence shows that young people who start drinking before age 15 are2:

- 4 times more lively to develop alcohol dependency than those who wait till 21
- 7 times more likely to be in a car crash
- 11 times more likely to suffer unintentional injuries
- heavy use of alcohol during teenage years can impair brain development and cause memory loss

Levels of Underage Drinking
According to the most recent ESPAD 2007 report on substance use among 15-16 year old students in 35 EU countries, Irish teenage girls are drinking more than their male counterparts. 28% of girls said they had been drunk within the last 30 days compared with 24% boys. This makes Ireland fifth among 35 countries surveyed3.

Similarly, the Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children (HBSC) Study 2006 found that one third of Irish 15-17 year olds reported having been drunk in the previous thirty days.

A Report by the Office for Tobacco Control revealed that the average spend of Irish 16 and 17 year olds on alcohol is €20.9 per week which is a total annual spend by Irish adolescents of 145 million euro4- interestingly 76% of adults surveyed in the above research agree that it is easy for under 18’s to access alcohol in pubs and off-licenses.1

While this campaign is aimed at reducing the number of young people drinking by raising awareness of the need to protect them from starting to drink, it comes against a backdrop of high levels of alcohol consumption particularly in relation to drinking patterns i.e. binge drinking.

The campaign is comprised of a number of elements including advertising - TV, radio and outdoor - public information leaflets and website, The information leaflets ‘Straight Talk - a guide for parents on teenage drinking’ and ‘Less is More’ can be accessed at or through the HSE information line 1850 24 1850.



Media Contact: Karen O’Keeffe, Serena Leyden, WHPR 01 669 0030 / 086 857 4291 /087 137 9138


1 ‘Public Attitudes to Underage Drinking’ HSE commissioned research conducted by
Millward Brown IMS through omnibus research conducted in late 2008
2 Health-related consequences of problem alcohol use. Overview 6. Dublin: Health Research Board. 2007
3 Hibell et al, 2004 published in Irish College of Psychiatrists Policy Paper September 2008
4 Office of Tobacco Control, 2006 Report

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