CEO Comments: Alcohol Has No Place in Childhood

Drinkaware CEO Comments Blog

CEO Comments

As the national charity working to prevent underage drinking Drinkaware firmly believes that alcohol has no place in childhood.  

The legal age for drinking is 18 years, but the average age of first drink is 15.5 years (Drinkaware Index 2019) and the tipping point, 2nd year in secondary school, is evident from the documented shift in attitudes and experiences regarding alcohol (Maynooth University, 2019). 

Parents and Educators

Parents and educators have a key role to play in addressing underage drinking, and this starts with separating facts from fiction:  

  • The earlier young people start drinking, the more likely they are to experience alcohol-related harms in the future (Growing Up in Ireland, 2020)  
  • Any amount of alcohol given to a child or adolescent acts as a serious risk factor for future adolescent binge drinking and suffering from alcohol related harms (Aiken et al, 2020; Boland et al, 2020; Clare et al, 2020).    
  • Parental supply of alcohol also increases the frequency of binge drinking and the number of alcohol related harms experienced (Clare et al. 2020).   
  • Right into the twenties, the brain is still developing and drinking alcohol at this time can have an impact on long term brain function (NIAAA, 2003). 

Policy Makers and Influencers

Policy makers and influencers also have a role to play by supporting the already existing related recommendations in the Department of Health’s Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery – A health-led response to alcohol and drug use in Ireland 2017-2025, and Healthy Ireland’s Strategic Plan 2021-2025, of which one stated aim is “to delay the initiation of consumption among children and young people”.   

Ireland’s political and education leaders should be aware of the valuable role alcohol education can play in primary prevention and should commit to actively supporting evidence-informed programmes that prevent and delay alcohol use amongst children and young people.   

Junior Cycle Alcohol Education Programme

Drinkaware’s Junior Cycle Alcohol Education Programme is one such programme.  It not only aligns with the strategic aims of these strategies, but has also been independently evaluated by Maynooth University and shown to be effective at increasing students’ intent not to drink, and improving their understanding of the impact of alcohol consumption on health and wellbeing 

To date over 15,000 students have engaged with the Programme through 295 trained teachers across 155 schools nationwide.  And in 2022-2024 we want to scale this, because to do not so could mean the continuation and/or escalation of our unhealthy youth drinking culture, the perpetuation of the negative expectations and acceptance of underage drinking, and the inevitable increase of alcohol-related harm to self and others.   

For reference:

(NIAAA, 2003). 

(Growing Up in Ireland, 2020).  

(Aiken et al. 2020). Aiken A, Clare PJ, Boland VC, Degenhardt L, Yuen WS, Hutchinson D, Najman J, McCambridge J, Slade T, McBride N, De Torres C, Wadolowski M, Bruno R, Kypri K, Mattick RP, Peacock A. Parental supply of sips and whole drinks of alcohol to adolescents and associations with binge drinking and alcohol-related harms: A prospective cohort study. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2020 Oct 1;215:108204. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2020.108204. Epub 2020 Aug 5. PMID: 32871506. 

(Boland et al, 2020). Boland VC, Clare PJ, Yuen WS, Peacock A, Aiken A, Wadolowski M, Hutchinson D, Najman J, Slade T, Bruno R, McBride N, Degenhardt L, Kypri K, Mattick RP. The association between parental supply of alcohol and supply from other sources to young people: a prospective cohort. Addiction. 2020 Nov;115(11):2140-2147. doi: 10.1111/add.15033. Epub 2020 Mar 24. PMID: 32141130. 

(Clare et al. 2020). Clare PJ, Dobbins T, Bruno R, Peacock A, Boland V, Yuen WS, Aiken A, Degenhardt L, Kypri K, Slade T, Hutchinson D, Najman JM, McBride N, Horwood J, McCambridge J, Mattick RP. The overall effect of parental supply of alcohol across adolescence on alcohol-related harms in early adulthood-a prospective cohort study. Addiction. 2020 Oct;115(10):1833-1843. doi: 10.1111/add.15005. Epub 2020 Mar 6. PMID: 32034841.