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Teen binging a major concern

Some positives in teen drinking patterns but binging a major concern

The Alcohol Advisory Council’s latest teen drinking survey shows some “positive shifts” in New Zealand teenagers’ drinking behaviour, says ALAC’s acting Chief Executive Officer Paula Snowden.

However, teenage binge drinking is a major concern with the proportion of teenagers drinking to such an extent that they are endangering their health and safety remaining alarmingly high, she says.

The Youth Drinking Monitor survey is the sixth in a series commissioned by ALAC and carried out by BRC Marketing and Social Research since 1997. Some 626 teenagers aged between 12 and 17 years old were surveyed in June this year.

The survey shows fewer teenagers aged 14 to 17 are trying alcohol, and fewer teenagers currently drink compared to last year’s survey. The proportion who drank five or more drinks on their last drinking occasion (binging) has also dropped (although not significantly), as has the proportion with a risky drinking episode in the last two weeks.

“That’s all good news; we have to be cautious, but there are some significant declines in the key markers.”

Paula Snowden says many agencies have been working to tackle teen drinking.

“I believe it’s the combination of policies – better policing of the law, efforts by local communities, increased public awareness, efforts by parents – that have contributed to this result.

“I am particularly pleased to see the substantial reduction in the proportion of parents who are supplying alcohol to their teenagers down from 50 percent in 2001 to 32 percent in this year’s survey.”

Parents remain the major supplier of alcohol to 14 to 17 year olds at 32 percent but this is down from 45 percent in 2002.

Friends also remain a major source of supply of alcohol to 14-17 year olds, despite a positive downward trend since 2001 in the proportion of youth supplied alcohol by friends.

Also, despite a modest decrease in the proportion of 14-17 year olds who reported personally purchasing alcohol, consistent with previous years, a high proportion of them are hardly ever or never asked for ID.

However, the results are not all good, she says. The age at which the teenagers are starting to “really” drink is coming down and youth binging remains a real concern.

While fewer teenagers overall are binge drinking – one in five of the 14 to 17 year olds surveyed reported drinking five or more drinks on at least one social occasion in the last two weeks compared with almost one in three in last year’s survey.

However, the proportion indulging in such risky behaviour remains worryingly high. Almost 50 percent of current drinkers claimed they had drunk this amount during at least one drinking session in the last two weeks.

This was a significant increase on the 35 percent of current drinkers who reported drinking five or more drinks on the last occasion in 2002.

“Young people believe that becoming drunk is a rite of passage to adulthood. This has to change,” she says. The trending downwards of the age at which young people really started drinking is disturbing, she says. The survey showed the average age of starting to drink was 13.6 years compared to 14.5 years in the 2002 survey. “Research has shown that the younger people start social drinking, the greater the chances of alcohol-related harm. “This is one area where family or whänau can have a huge influence.” Paula Snowden said the proportion of 14 to 17 year olds defined as heavier drinkers and lighter drinkers has decreased significantly since 2002, and the proportion of non-drinkers has increased significantly. However, there is evidence of even more risky drinking behaviour among heavier drinkers. When questioned about their last drinking occasion, half (50 percent) of the heavier drinkers claimed they had drunk nine or more glasses (41 percent in 2002). Two in five drank more than 10 glasses on the last occasion (twice ALAC’s definition of heavy or excessive drinking) and a significant increase on the 23 percent measured in 2002. “So while there are some good results here, overall we have to encourage everyone involved - parents, communities schools and Government - to remain committed to programmes aimed at reducing alcohol-related harm among young people,” she says. Other Key Results

1. Almost all (88 percent) of the 14 to 17 year old surveyed reported they had tried a least a sip of alcohol. This was down from 93 percent in 2002 and 95 percent in 2001.

2. Of those who had tried alcohol, 84 percent said they had had a full glass.

3. When all the 14 to 17 year olds surveyed are included (this includes the non drinkers) figures showed 72 percent had ever had a full glass. This is down from 83 percent in 2002 and 80 percent in 2001.

4. The survey showed a high proportion of teenagers are drinking regularly. Some 66 percent of the teenagers surveyed currently drink alcohol; this is down from 82 percent in 2002 and 79 percent in 2001.

5. Some 20 percent said they drank at least once a week; again down from 29 percent in 2002 and 31 percent in 2001. 6. Since 2001, proportions of “heavier drinkers” and “lighter drinkers” have decreased significantly, while the proportion of “non-drinkers” has increased significantly. When the frequency and amount drunk is taken into account (using ALAC's definition of five or more glasses for risky drinking) 25 percent of all 14 to 17 year olds are defined as heavier drinkers in this year’s survey; down from 33 percent in 2002, 31 percent in 2001, and 35 percent in 2000; and 41 percent for “lighter drinkers”, down from 47 percent in 2002, 44 percent in 2001, and 49 percent in 2000). Conversely, there has been a compensating significant increase in the proportion of 14-17 year olds claiming to be current non-drinkers (34 percent in 2003, compared to 20 percent in 2002, 25 percent in 2001, and 16 percent in 2000).

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