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The role of the environment on teenage drinking

Many environmental factors contribute to teens forming a positive attitude towards alcohol that contradict a parents’ decision to not provide alcohol. How much it costs, how easy they can get it, and if they know the law, can see adolescents wanting to drink alcohol sooner and in greater volume. Parents can influence if these factors make a small or large impact, by choosing not to provide alcohol.

There are many individual and external factors that can contribute to a teenagers’ decision to want to drink alcohol. This includes knowledge, attitudes, coping skills, a sense of self-worth and a need for achievement. 1

Other people, especially family members and peers, along with societal attitudes to alcohol, the price of alcohol products, and alcohol marketing can also influence if teenagers want to drink alcohol 2

There are powerful forces that underpin harmful drinking cultures, such as the price, availability and promotion of alcohol products 3.

How the environment can support parents’ decisions not to provide alcohol to under 18s

Younger people whose risk of alcohol-related harms is particularly high, are especially responsive to changes in alcohol prices and other changes to the environment. Increased alcohol prices have been shown to:

  • reduce the proportion of adolescents who are heavy drinkers;
  • reduce underage and binge drinking;
  • delay intentions among younger adolescents to start drinking; and
  • slow progression towards drinking larger amounts 4.

Price based strategies has some of the highest evidence for effectiveness in reducing harm as well as restrictions on hours and day of sale and enforcement of laws on youth drinking 5.

Alcohol advertising and its impact on teenagers

Promotion by alcohol brands, including their media and advertising campaigns, positions alcohol use as normal behaviour for both adults and young people 6. The content of their ads, where they are shown and how often they are seen can impact on attitudes and behaviours of teenagers towards alcohol. By forming a favourable attitude, alcohol promotion can increase the likelihood that adolescents will start to use alcohol, and to drink more if they already drink alcohol. 7

The Alcohol Programs Team, Public Health Advocacy Institute of WA has a resource detailing the role of promotion on young people. Below is an excerpt from this brochure:

  • Exposure to alcohol advertising influences young people’s beliefs and attitudes about drinking, and increases the likelihood that adolescents will start to use alcohol and will drink more if they are already using alcohol.
  • Over 94% of Australian students aged 12 to 17 report having seen alcohol advertising on TV and the majority report having seen alcohol ads in magazines, newspapers, on the internet, on billboards/posters, and in bottleshops, bars and pubs.
  • Alcohol sponsorship of sport may be associated with increased drinking among school students and increased drinking and hazardous consumption among those sponsored.
  • Exposure to alcohol advertising on TV and liking of those ads influences young people’s drinking and the development of alcohol-related problems.
  • US research shows that underage young people were more than five times more likely to drink brands that advertise on national TV.
  • Liking or following alcohol marketing pages on social media is common among young Australians and is associated with riskier alcohol use and an earlier start to drinking.
  • Significant associations exist between exposure to internet-based alcohol-related content and intentions to drink and positive attitudes towards drinking among young people.
  • Western Australian alcohol attitudinal data found approximately 81% of parents support government regulation to reduce young people’s exposure to alcohol advertising, with 76% of adults supporting removal of alcohol advertising from buses and bus stops to reduce the exposure to young people.
 
References

1Pettigrew, S., Pescud, M., Jarvis, W., & Webb, D. (2013). Teens' blog accounts of the role of adults in youth alcohol consumption. Journal of Social Marketing, 3(1), 28-40. doi:10.1108/20426761311297216

2 Pettigrew, S., Pescud, M., Jarvis, W., & Webb, D. (2013). Teens' blog accounts of the role of adults in youth alcohol consumption. Journal of Social Marketing, 3(1), 28-40. doi:10.1108/20426761311297216

3 Preventative Health Taskforce (2009). Preventing alcohol-related harm in Australia: technical report 3. Retrieved from http://www.health.gov.au/internet/preventativehealth/publishing.nsf/content/09C94C0F1B9799F5CA2574DD0081E770/$File/alcohol-jul09.pdf0

4Commonwealth of Australia. (2008). Standing Commitee on Community Affairs. Ready-to-drink alcohol beverages. (ISBN 978-0-642-71932-4).

5 Toumbourou, J. W., Stockwell, T., Neighbors, C., Marlatt, G. A., & al, e. (2007). Interventions to reduce harm associated with adolescent substance use. The Lancet, 369(9570), 1391.

6 Chainey, T. A., & Stephens, C. (2016). ‘Let’s get wasted’: A discourse analysis of teenagers’ talk about binge drinking. Journal of Health Psychology, 21(5), 628-639. doi:10.1177/1359105314532972

7Curtin University. (2017) McCusker Centre for Action on Alcohol and Youth - Alcohol Advertising and Young People. Retrieved from