A new IARD report on underage drinking that’s captured media attention this week – (New report shows decline of underage drinking in Ireland, 15/08/2019) – comes at an interesting time, with Leaving Cert results out and college life looming.
The report’s Irish data comes from the ESPAD 2015 report on 15-16 year olds, and in terms of lifetime alcohol use amongst this age cohort, the figures have indeed decreased over last 20 years, and have consistently done so. But this is only one aspect of the data. The ESPAD 2015 figures also show that the ‘average alcohol intake on the last drinking day’ for Irish 15-16 year olds was at the highest level across all markets (equal to or greater than 6cl).
Context is everything, and when we look across all the alcohol-related research – from the HRB, Healthy Ireland, Drinkaware Index, etc. – the story the data tells is that although the levels of alcohol consumption may be dropping in some instances, the nature of how we drink, when we drink, is a persistent and a serious problem. The consistent Irish binge (hazardous) drinking culture i.e. that we consume six standard drinks or more on a single drinking occasion, is evident across all demographics of adults and is arguably embedded from the first drink, and has a halo effect on those drinking underage.
As long as drinking to excess (by adults) is deemed acceptable – which, according to the Drinkaware Index 2019, 75% of the population think it is – then that is the message our children and young people receive. We need to stop implicitly facilitating this, deploy our influence and stop being a bystander to underage drinking and the future harms this can cause.