Adolescents and Youth

Youth in Australia are at particular risk of alcohol related harms. Youth drinking, especially risky single occasion drinking (defined as consuming at least five standard drinks), remains a concern in the community given the evidence for alcohol-related harm during the early developmental years. This is echoed in the growing public support for stricter enforcement of the law against supplying alcohol to minors. Epidemiological trends show that young people in Australia are heeding the messages around alcohol harm, such that the proportion of 14–19 year olds who abstained from alcohol in 2016 was 82%. Risky single occasion drinking at least monthly continues to decline in the adolescent group, having more than halved since 2001 (39% in 2001 to 18% in 2016) but young adults (18-24 years old) remain the age group most likely to consume 11 or more standard drinks on a single occasion. 

Children and young people under the age of 18 years are at greater risk of harm from drinking than adults due to a lower tolerance to alcohol, a greater propensity for risky behaviour, and the high risk of alcohol-related injury given the harmful effects of alcohol on developing brains. 

Neurodevelopment, especially in regions linked to regulation of behaviour and emotion, is not complete until well into adulthood. Regular, heavy alcohol or other drug use can inhibit adolescent development, especially impairing cognitive maturation and reducing educational achievement. Excessive alcohol use in adolescence is also associated with a wide range of other co-existing problems, including difficulty with relationships (especially parents), poor school performance, low employment prospects and homelessness. 

The adolescent years are a period for experimentation and socialisation with peers, which may include engaging in high-risk behaviours including risky alcohol consumption and other substance use. Longitudinal studies indicate that early alcohol use (variably defined in the literature, but generally less than 18 years of age) is associated with increased likelihood of heavy drinking continuing into young adulthood and later. Delaying onset of alcohol consumption is therefore considered safest for young people under the age of 18 years. 

Chapter Recommendation Grade of recommendation
12.1 National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) guidelines recommend to reduce the risk of injury and other harms to health, children and young people under 18 years of age should not drink alcohol. A

It has long been debated whether parental supply of alcohol is a risk or protective factor for adolescent alcohol problems. Cohort studies have suggested an association between parental supply of alcohol and risky drinking but these studies had methodological limitations. However, a large prospective cohort study of almost 2000 Australian young people surveyed annually between 2010 and 2016 has shown associations between parental supply of alcohol and binge consumption, alcohol related harm as well as alcohol use disorder. 

Chapter Recommendation Grade of recommendation
12.2 Parental provision of alcohol is a risk factor for earlier onset of alcohol consumption, more frequent alcohol consumption and/or alcohol related problems. A