50% of parents say 15 year olds should be allowed alcohol at home
20% of teenagers drink on a weekly basis
1 Australian teenager a week dies of alcohol abuse*

The dilemma of whether or not to let underage teenagers drink at private parties is one that many parents have faced.

The majority seem to feel that it is better to let young people drink in the safety of their own home rather than letting them try to obtain alcohol by false ID’s or other people purchasing it for them.

However, the recent case of a 16 year old youth who had passed out at a party in Sydney and was then set alight after petrol had been poured over his head brings this quandary into the spot light yet again.

Apparently the petrol was poured over him as a prank; the so called prankster greatly mis-judging the gravity of his behavior, probably also due to too much alcohol.

Thankfully the teenager woke up and ran for help, but he did suffer burns to his face and hands and went to hospital for treatment before being released.

The incident is still under investigation.

Surprisingly the MBF Healthwatch survey showed that parents in the higher income bracket were more in favor of supplying alcohol to under-age teenagers (63%) than their lower socioeconomic counterparts.

Bupa Australia chief medical officer Dr Christine Bennett said “some may see this approach as a way to teach their teenage children about socially responsible drinking but we want parents to understand that early exposure may actually be doing them damage,” she said. “Too much alcohol impairs young people’s judgment, which can lead to violence, injury and build a pattern of use that leads to lifetime dependence”.

“It’s shocking to think that one teenager a week dies of alcohol abuse. Binge drinking can lead to violence, high risk sexual activity, depression and, in some instances, brain damage and alcohol dependence”.

“Parents perhaps believe that supervised underage drinking in the home is safe but we don’t yet know enough about whether it is possible to drink safely in this way so we need to make sure that our children are protected. Be a good role model and help to protect your child and their brain” urged Dr Bennett.

Paul Dillon, author of Teenagers, Alcohol and Drugs and Generation Next speaker, said “alcohol, like any other drug taken in large amounts, can lead to an overdose situation. ‘Binge drinking’ or ‘drinking to get drunk’ is often the cause for alcohol poisoning, particularly among young people.

When someone drinks alcohol faster than their liver can metabolize it, the amount of alcohol in the blood rises, sometimes to a danger point. This can lead to an overdose situation. At very high blood alcohol levels, a person loses consciousness and goes into a coma. People do die due to alcohol poisoning” he said.

Professor Ian Hickie, Executive Director of the University of Sydney Brain and Mind Research Institute, said that he was concerned.

“These statistics highlight the gap between best medical evidence and parental actions, while also challenging the belief parents are well-placed to assist their children avoid alcohol during the critical years of brain development,” he said.

“Parents need to understand that early exposure to alcohol can disturb a wide range of key brain functions” concluded Professor Hickie.

The Brain and Mind Research Institute studies diseases of the brain and mind, including substance abuse, clinical depression and dementia. These conditions now account for more than 40% of all illness and cost the Australian economy an estimated $30 billion each year.

Figures show that alcohol consumption at harmful levels among school age Australian teenagers increased 5% to 31% between 1999 and 20051 and that the majority of young people who drink at home say their parents buy it for them.

The dangers of under age binge drinking

  • Maturation of the adolescent brain. Disruption with a neurotoxin like alcohol may lead to learning difficulties, memory problems, reduced performance on attention-based testing2
  • Alcohol-associated illnesses, and
  • Social problems

How can parents help?

  • Be a good role model – parent’s actions and attitudes influence a young person’s life
  • Talk about alcohol laws and the consequences of breaking them
  • Praise a responsible attitude towards alcohol*
  • Adopt a zero tolerance alcohol policy for the first 3 years of high school as children under 15 at greatest risk of harm3
  • After this, if they must introduce alcohol, introduce moderate and responsible drinking in association with food4

For more help and information on the effects of under age drinking visit the following websites:

Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia (DARTA) with Generation Next speaker Paul Dillon
Australian Government, Department of Health and Aging (Alcohol)   

or for brochures on  Alcohol and your kids: a guide for parents and carers and Young people –  Don’t lose your standards.

*figures supplied by Bupa Australia, which operates MBF and Mutual Community.
1. Australia: the healthiest country by 2010, National Preventative Health Taskforce, 2009
2. Monash University, 2008
3. Alcohol and your kids, Department of Health and Ageing, Australian Government, 2009 (alcohol.gov.au)
4. Generation Next speaker, Michael Carr-Gregg

Writer Helen Splarn. Editor Dr Ramesh Manocha.

Source: Brain and Mind Research Institute. Bupa Australia. Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia (DARTA)