Underage Drinking: Parents Supplying Less but Bottle Shops a Problem

Fewer parents are supplying alcohol to their underage teenagers, according to the findings of a new study.

A recently published research paper by the Centre for Youth Substance Abuse at the University of Queensland reveals a drop from 22.4 per cent to 11.79 per cent, over the six years to 2013.

This coincides with downward trends in adolescent experimentation, quantity and frequency of alcohol use, with the largest declines occurring between 2010 and 2013.

Associate Professor Dr Adrian Kelly, who led the research team, says that despite the decline, parents remain the second-most common source for alcohol, behind their children’s friends.

‘They still play an important role in the uptake of consumption and warrant attention when discussing strategies to reduce the harms associated with underage drinking,’ he says.

The research paper, published in the BMC Public Health journal, examines the data in six Australian National Drug Strategy Household Surveys between 1998 and 2013.

There was a big increase in the number of adolescents who identified as non-drinkers (no alcohol in the previous year), doubling from 30 per cent in 2001 to almost 60 per cent in 2013.

And those reporting that they drink alcohol on a weekly basis has significantly declined, from 20.7 per cent in 1998 to 5.1 per cent in 2013.

‘Our findings suggested that decrease in supply by parents was not compensated for by other sources of alcohol,’ says Dr Kelly.

‘It’s consistent with the possibility that cultural changes have reduced the pressure on parents to provide alcohol, at least in the early phases of alcohol use.’

The paper notes the dangers involved in underage drinking, describing it as a major public health burden.

The risks include alcohol-related injury and assault, early first sexual encounters, depression, adult alcohol abuse and dependence, and premature death. Alcohol may also more adversely affect brain function in adolescents.

Parents often cite harm minimisation as the rationale for supplying alcohol to their children, but the researchers say there is little evidence for it.

While parental supply of alcohol is decreasing, there is concern on another front, with a separate Deakin University study finding that bottle shops are part of the problem of underage drinking.

The study reveals that more than half of Australia’s bottle shops are selling alcohol to teenagers without checking their age.

Researchers at the Centre for Social and Early Emotional Development monitored what happened at 350 bottle shops to see if they checked the IDs of customers who looked underage.

Some 60 per cent of staff didn’t check – and stores in rural areas were the worst offenders.

The study involved a legal-aged person of underage appearance attempting to buy alcohol, with an independent monitor present. The bottle shops were in 28 urban and rural communities in Victoria, Western Australia and Queensland.

‘Underage drinking continues to be a major public health issue in Australia despite national guidelines stating that young people should not use alcohol before they are 18 years old,’ says Deakin Senior Research Fellow, Dr Bosco Rowland.

Dr Rowland says that rather than being part of the problem, bottle shops could be part of the solution.

‘We have sent letters to the bottle shop managers alerting them to the sales practices of their staff as a way of helping the managers reduce underage sales,’ says Dr Rowland.

‘Our goal is to assist the managers to reduce underage sales before they get fined or before underage youth are sold alcohol that could cause them to be injured or killed.’