Drug Education News

News and views from the Drug Education Forum

Use of Alcohol among Children and Young People


The DCSF have published research on how young people use alcohol. The researchers had three objectives:

  • To provide insight into the influences and motivations for alcohol consumption in young people;
  • To understand barriers that exist to alcohol avoidance; in order to inform
  • The design of interventions (messaging and/or other activity) aimed at young people and parents.

The report says that the researchers found a high level of personal disassociation from the issue of underage drinking amongst all the groups they spoke to – stakeholders, parents and carers, and children and young people.

There are many gaps in the anti-drinking argument. Drinkers exploit them all.

They say that while a small number of young people expressed an interest in learning more about alcohol and how to manage their drinking the personal disassociation from the issues means that this approach is unlikely to be successful without considerable effort elsewhere.

The study found that parental attitudes critical as while there was a range of approaches it was clear “that many parents and carers are key to facilitating and even overtly encouraging, underage drinking” and that they lacked information on the potential problems that alcohol can cause young people.

However, more widely the researchers say that there needs to be more work done to help reframe the context in which alcohol sits and they say that while this should be led by health experts it needs to be seen to have government backing.

Current Audience Dissociation from the Problem

While all groups the researchers spoke to were able to describe what they saw as the growing problems associated with underage drinking – anti-social behaviour, accidents, etc. – none thought it was a problem for them. This applied to practitioners; parents and carers; and children and young people.

Personal defence against the problem was easy and natural for respondents, since they found justification and explanation for their own drinking behaviours and attitudes everywhere.

For example, parents spoke about youth culture, celebrity role modelling, and the ease of access to alcohol.

It is widely accepted across the sample that the effects of alcohol abuse can be very damaging. However, there is little connection with the consequences for themselves. For most young people and parents, the benchmark is the ‘tramp on a park bench’. For those with visibly heavy drinkers in the family, an alcoholic is – at a push – a distant relative who is generally considered to be somewhat of a misfit or ‘loser’ by the family.

The researchers say that amongst adults and children and young people there are a number of myths:

  • Alcohol is not a drug
  • Alcohol ‘lite’ is fine
  • You learn by your own mistakes; and
  • I am not at risk

They also found a dissonance between what people believe are the norms around drinking amongst young people and reported use. For example, that drinking to excess is a rite of passage that all young people go through.

most of the alcohol information young people are accessing is pro-drinking and anti-moderation. Such information is used to support their own excessive drinking behaviour.

They say that all groups underestimate the risks involved with alcohol, and parents were operating under the false impression that boundary setting could make things ‘worse’.

Encouraging Audience Connection to the Problem: The Way in?

Different audiences are more interested in different aspects of the problems that alcohol may cause children and young people. The report suggests that the longer term problems are more interesting to parents and carers than they are for young people.

However, they suggest that the messages need to be simpler so that those receiving them can reconsider their attitudes.

Disturbingly they say that the government isn’t seen to have a standpoint on underage drinking, indeed the government is perceived to be in favour of liberalising access to alcohol.

Critically, there is no current perception of a Government ‘standpoint’ on the subject or any considered strategy to deal with the substance and its impact… the extension of drinking licences to create a ’24 hour drinking society’ is the main fact referred to when seeking to establish Government attitude towards drinking.

Encouraging Audience Connection to the Problem: A Reason to Believe?

Both adults and children and young people don’t like confronting the fact that alcohol is a drug and become very defensive if it appears that they as consumers are being blamed for society’s ills.

However, they say:

[the] potential for harm is undeniable (from own knowledge, evidence around them and from media) and potentially extreme (physical, psychological, emotional and social). As such, they do wish to avoid it.

They argue that if the issues and harms are couched in a similar way to the way we talk about tobacco this may help recipients to acknowledge their need to reassess behaviour. They also suggest that the issue must be framed as a national problem and as ones where there are a series of negative effects (rather than poor personal choice).

Primary Communications Requirements

The researchers suggest two universal messages:

  • The need to keep up with the times: a changed environment (recognised and being considered/acted upon by Government) needs consideration from you too;
  • There are benefits to you (from doing things differently).

They also suggest work on raising understanding about alcohol units. They go on to say that there will be a need to target certain sub-groups with different messages.


The report makes a series of recommendations, including:

  • Alcohol education from basic unit level upwards to more complex information on dependency is introduced from year 6 upwards in schools, particularly targeted towards children whose families are drinking alcohol in home.
  • Parenting information around management of teen issues given from Year 1 of secondary school.

The promotion of alternative activities for young people – relaxed, passive, engaging and safe – a new teenage model.

I’ve turned this post into a 2 page PDF document which can be downloaded from here.


Filed under: alcohol, research, ,

2 Responses

  1. BROWN says:


  2. […] that the Know Your Limits campaign has been around a bit longer than a year, but as we’ve seen elsewhere this is evidence that the messaging (and the general effectiveness of public health campaigning) is […]

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