On the back of the latest findings regarding the prevalence of binge drinking from the Healthy Ireland Survey 2022, the national charity, Drinkaware, calls for more action to combat underage drinking.
The Healthy Ireland Survey found that 22% of the population aged 15+ engage in binge drinking, which corroborates Drinkaware’s Barometer 2022 data that revealed an increase in Irish adults (18+ ) engaging in ‘binge drinking when they drink’, from 1 in 5 in 2021 to 1 in 4 in 2022.
Primary prevention is the holy grail of health. Currently, Drinkaware is the only provider of a primary prevention programme to tackle underage drinking in Ireland. Drinkaware’s Junior Cycle programme has to date engaged with 177 secondary schools and 15,000 first to third year students have gone through the programme, which is proven to defer first drink and to increase understanding of harms. But the charity insists that more needs to be done.
Drinkaware research also found that 72% of Irish adults first drank alcohol before the legal age of 18. The average age for first drink in Ireland is 14 years but it is getting younger: For those aged under 35 years the average age of first drink is over two years younger compared to those aged 50+ (14.8 v 17 years ). However, there is currently no publicly funded nationwide school programme that educates children about the dangers of alcohol, before or at the age of first drink. Maynooth University research identified 14 going on 15 years as the tipping point for first drink in Ireland.
With the age of first drink getting younger, and the incident of binge drinking amongst Irish adults and in particular those from the younger age cohorts increasing, Drinkaware has consistently raised concerns that not enough is being done to educate the youth on underage drinking and alcohol related harms. The charity contends that education and awareness are essential to ensure that Ireland’s young population is armed with accurate information regarding alcohol related harms, both in the short and in the long term. In particular, comprehensive education at the preventative stage is essential to ensure a future where alcohol is not misused and the age of first drink is delayed.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO ) to meaningfully address underage drinking requires capacity and resource. Drinkaware asks that if the HSE cannot provide this, it works with organisations who can, and who are known and trusted by the public, to collaboratively deliver efficient and effective preventions. Drinkaware has already offered to make its research and expertise available to inform any publicly funded programmes and this offer stands.
Drinkaware has offered to share its extensive national research as well as the education programme and its learnings in the hope that the programme can be scaled without delay and that public purse resources will not be needlessly wasted on reinventing the wheel when an evidence-based and independently evaluated programme, that is a proven welcome resource to teachers, parents and students alike, is readily available.
CEO Sheena Horgan adds: “It is the collective duty of our public health institutions, our health providers, educators and civil society organisations such as Drinkaware, to do everything possible to stop underage drinking before it starts. To ignore or dismiss preventions that are working and making a positive contribution to prevention, is counter-intuitive and not acceptable. We cannot shirk our responsibilities to work together when best practice clearly indicates that collaboration is needed to address alcohol misuse.
The combination of policy initiatives and a shift in public sentiment is also cited by WHO as positive deterrents of alcohol misuse. Drinkaware has consistently challenged negative social norms about drinking and underage drinking, and will continue to do so under its public health remit as the national charity working to prevent and reduce alcohol misuse”.