Drinkers dry up: Anti-booze messages, social media lead to teens trying grog later

DRINKING DOWN: Jesse Green, 16, reflects on Tamworth's drinking culture. Photo: Barry Smith 240714BSC04
DRINKING DOWN: Jesse Green, 16, reflects on Tamworth's drinking culture. Photo: Barry Smith 240714BSC04

A COCKTAIL of advertising and social media could be behind a significant drop in the number of young people boozing, local community groups have said. 

Young people are waiting longer before having their first drink and more are abstaining from alcohol, according to the recently released National Drug Strategy Household Survey.

Young people between the age of 14 and 24 are partaking of their first alcoholic beverage at 15.7 years, up from 14.4 a decade and a half ago. 

Tamworth teenager Jesse Green, 16, attributed the shift to a combination of parental supervision and advertising.

“Now it’s a lot more advertised that you shouldn’t drink at a super early age,” he said. 

He said teenagers who drink at 14 and 15 tend to be focused on the social aspect and trying to fit in with a clique, whereas older teenagers are more likely to think about their health and will be more mature and controlled in their drinking. 

“When you’re young you don’t think as much about cause and effect,” he said. 

He called for schools to take a more nuanced approach to alcohol education, suggesting more needed to be done in the later years of high school when drinking becomes more relevant.

“We’re only taught ‘don’t do it’, but that doesn’t teach you the consequences of binge drinking.” 

The percentage of teenagers between 12 and 17 who are choosing not to drink has risen from 64 per cent to 72 per cent in three years, Australian Drug Foundation CEO John Rogerson said. 

“We know that the younger a person drinks alcohol, the more likely they are to binge drink and have a problem with alcohol later in life,” Mr Rogerson said.

Mr Green said he was “surprised” by the increase in teen- agers abstaining from alcohol altogether, considering the number of young people who boast about their alcohol consumption on social media.

But social media could be a double edged sword, with some young people choosing not to drink for fear of being photographed or filmed during their insobriety and broadcast on social media, Tamworth headspace manager Helen Carter said.

She said although the figures showed a slow decline, drinking was still deeply entrenched in the local community. 

“Anecdotally, we would see that there is a strong drinking culture in Tamworth – people are drinking and using that as a main social connector.” 

The survey suggested the need for more drug prevention campaigning.

Ms Carter said apart from alcohol, cannabis was the main drug of choice in Tamworth. 

“It’s concerning that young people are using cannabis as a way of relaxing and fitting in,” she said. 

While the use of ice was on the rise nationally, Ms Carter said that is not the case locally. 

“We’ve been warned that an ice epidemic is coming our way for a number of years, but what we’re seeing here is that the peak of that has yet to been seen.”