Drug Education News

News and views from the Drug Education Forum

Australian alcohol guidelines

As we wait for the Chief Medical Officer’s (CMO) guidance to parents and young people about alcohol to be finalised it might be useful to compare his putative 5 messages against what is in the new Australian alcohol guidelines.

The CMO’s advice boils down to:

  • an alcohol-free childhood is the healthiest and best option – if children drink alcohol, it shouldn’t be before they reach 15 years old
  • for those aged 15 – 17 years old all alcohol consumption should always be with the guidance of a parent or carer or in a supervised environment
  • parents and young people should be aware that drinking, even at age 15 or older, can be hazardous to health and not drinking is the healthiest option for young people. If children aged 15 – 17 consume alcohol they should do so infrequently and certainly on no more than one day a week
  • the importance of parental influences on children’s alcohol use should be communicated to parents, carers and professionals. Parents and carers need advice on how to respond to alcohol use and misuse by children
  • support services must be available for children and young people who have alcohol related problems and their parents.

The Australian advice for young people is:

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.

They go on to point out how similar it is to the UK’s position and point to Australian research which:

tracked young people and their drinking patterns from 14 to 21 years old, shows drinking in teenage years is linked to higher risks of alcohol dependence problems in young adulthood, even when drinking is at “low-risk” levels. These results confirm earlier Australian research that found the drinking patterns of adolescents in the final years of secondary schooling (high, moderate and low level) is predictive of their drinking in the subsequent early adult years (Toumbourou et al. 2004).

The paper sets out how this guidance should be interpreted in a number of educational settings:

School settings: all education materials designed for use in school alcohol education will need to take the new guidelines into account, especially with regard to Guideline 3 [see above]. The position on not drinking alcohol before the age of 18 years creates a huge challenge for educators, given the level of—and acceptance of—underage drinking in the community. Careful attention will be needed in communicating and explaining the evidence base for the new guideline to teachers.

Community settings: the broad variety of groups requiring information and education on the new guidelines means that all the guidelines and additional information are relevant. A range of formats (print, graphic, audiovisual) and styles will be required to effectively communicate with different groups.

Parents and carers: Guideline 3 requires particularly careful communication to parents and carers responsible for young people less than 18 years of age. A clear understanding of the evidence behind this guideline will help reinforce the need for this position. Assisting and encouraging parents in the implementation of the guideline—in the face of current youth drinking levels and acceptance—may also require support and training in parenting skills. The Guidelines can be used to support and reinforce those parents who are seeking to limit and delay the use of alcohol by their children.

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Filed under: alcohol, International

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