Alcohol for teenagers ‘never safe’

The Age (Australia) April 12, 2009

Teenagers who drank only small amounts of alcohol had a significantly higher risk of abusing alcohol or engaging in risky sexual behaviour as young adults, research has found. The research casts doubt on new national guidelines that suggest there is a low-risk level of drinking for under-18s. It provides evidence for a move away from the harm-minimisation approach and raises questions about the apt legal minimum drinking age, experts say.

A team from Melbourne’s Murdoch Children’s Research Institute says its study, which has tracked 1520 young people’s drinking habits over more than 10 years from mid-teens to mid-20s, shows there is no safe or sensible level of drinking for adolescents, in light of later likely events. National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines define a low-risk level of drinking for adults as fewer than three standard drinks a day. The research found teenagers, drinking at even this level, increased their chances of alcohol abuse, social or legal problems or alcohol-related high-risk sexual behaviour, 10 years down the track.

Those who abstained from any alcohol in adolescence experienced fewer (bad) alcohol-related outcomes than those who drank at the recommended level. “We found no evidence of a level that may have been safe,” Dr Moore said. The research, published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, found that by young adulthood, 27 per cent of men and 13 per cent of women met at least one of the criteria for alcohol abuse and risky sexual behaviour.