Alcohol can present major challenges for parents and carers of under 18s.

There is no shortage of advice on this important issue and it can be difficult to know the best way to manage as a parent. We've included some examples of reputable sources of information and guidance below in 'Words of Wisdom'.

Do your research and always consider the following basic principles in relation to any of the advice you encounter -

There is no safe level of alcohol consumption for under 18's. Delaying commencement of drinking alcohol as long as possible is the best option (read more)

There is no evidence to support the belief that introducing alcohol to people when they are young teaches responsible drinking. (read more)

Levels of underage drinking can be greatly reduced by limiting supply. (read more)

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Words of Wisdom 

Listen to alcohol harm reduction expert Professor Sandra Jones for some great insight into alcohol and parenting. 7mins 30secs 2016 ABC Radio Interview

Check out Parenting Strategies: Preventing Adolescent Alcohol Misuse. A team of researchers at the University of Melbourne, Monash University, and Turning Point have put together this website to help parents to manage some challenging issues they may face with their children, including alcohol.

Doing Drugs with Paul Dillon. Social commentator and teen alcohol and drug expert Paul Dillon maintains an excellent blog to support parents navigate Australia's challenging alcohol culture landscape.

Hosting Teenage Parties. Parties and gatherings can bring the alcohol issue right to the surface. This information sheet clarifies the main issues. Please share it with other parents and carers of underage teens.

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There is no safe level of alcohol consumption for under 18's. 

The Australian Guideline regarding young people and alcohol states - "For children and young people under 18 years of age, not drinking alcohol is the safest option.

A. Parents and carers should be advised that children under 15 years of age are at the greatest risk of harm from drinking and that for this age group, not drinking alcohol is especially important.

B. For young people aged 15−17 years, the safest option is to delay the initiation of drinking for as long as possible." 1

Part B of this guideline appears to be an acknowledgement of how difficult it can be for some parents to delay initiation all the way to 18. Some researchers however have suggested that this part of the guideline is too lenient. Even low level drinking in the 15 to 17 years age group increases the young person's chances of alcohol abuse, social or legal problems, or alcohol-related high-risk sexual behaviours 10 years later.2 If you decide to allow your child to drink some alcohol, be aware that the younger they start, the greater the risk of problems in the future.

During adolescence, and even into young adulthood, the brain is still rapidly developing. At this time the human brain is more sensitive to injury from alcohol and is less able to respond to physiological cues to stop drinking. Alcohol affects brain development in young people; thus, drinking, particularly heavy drinking, at any time before brain development is complete (which is not until around 25 years of age) may adversely affect later brain function.

Drinkers under the age of 18;

  • Have higher risks of accidents, injuries, violence, academic failure and self-harm.
  • Are more likely to engage in risky or anti-social behaviour than older drinkers
  • Are much more likely to experience alcohol poisoning and even death due to alcohol overdose.
  • Are more likely to go on to experience alcohol related harm as adults.3

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There is no evidence to support the belief that introducing alcohol to people when they are young teaches responsible drinking. 

In fact there is evidence that early parental supply of alcohol is associated with increased risks. Check out the Myth Busting page of the Alcohol, Think Again website to debunk a variety of misconceptions about young people and alcohol.

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Levels of underage drinking can be greatly reduced by limiting supply.  

Young people are very sensitive to supply issues i.e. actually accessing alcohol.

It is illegal for any person other than a minor's parent or guardian, or a person authorised by the parent or guardian, to supply alcohol to that minor, and then only if the supply is consistent with responsible supervision of a minor. For a description of the law in relation to under 18s and alcohol see the Liquor & Gaming NSW Fact Sheet.

However, despite the law, many under 18's do gain access to alcohol.

Being given alcohol by a friend is the most common supply source at over 45%.4

Parents are the second most common supply source for alcohol to under 18's at approximately 30%.4 While not being supplied alcohol would be the preferred option, young drinkers who access alcohol from their parents drink less on average and are more likely to be supervised.5

While it is not the most common source, direct retail supply of alcohol from packaged liquor outlets may be the supply source for the riskiest underage drinking. Under 18s who purchase their own alcohol are not only a supply source for their friends and other young people, they are also the heaviest underage drinkers, consuming on average twice as much as teenagers who are given alcohol.5

The demand from under 18's to take risks and commence what they see as an adult behaviour is an innate and powerful drive. Trying to change their desire to commence drinking in the face of alcohol marketing and the current Australian drinking culture (particularly around sport) can be a huge challenge. However, affecting the supply side of the equation may represent a far greater return for effort, particularly at a population wide level. The Central Coast Local Health District, the Central Coast police area commands and Liquor & Gaming NSW are working with the packaged liquor industry to stop sales to underage people. For more information on this campaign go to Alcohol Sales to Minors.

17th and 18th birthday parties and end of sporting season celebrations for older teens can be particularly difficult. It's possible that a variety age groups both over and under 18 will be present. Many parents and other significant adults are uncertain of what is acceptable or even expected, and some are just misguided. Make it clear to other adults what your wishes are in relation to your under 18 year old child and alcohol.

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References

1. Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol – Australian Government National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), 2009
2. Moore E, Coofey Carlin JB, Alati R & Patton GC: Assessing alcohol guidelines in teenagers: results from a 10-year prospective study: Aust N Z J of Public Health: 2009; 154-159)
3. Ellickson PL, Tucker JS, Klein DJ: Ten-year prospective study of public health problems associated with early drinking. Pediatrics: 2003: 111; 949-55
4.Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2014). National Drug Strategy Household Survey detailed report 2013
5. Australian secondary school students' use of tobacco, alcohol, and over-the counter and illicit substances in 2011 Victoria White, Emily Bariola December 2012

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