Teens lose taste for booze as they swap bitter for Twitter

Alcohol-fuelled violence and binge drinking have been big issues, but among mid-teens, booze is on the way down.

A University of NSW study has revealed more than half of 14 to 17-year-olds abstain from alcohol, compared to 33 per cent in 2001.

"A majority of teenagers are not drinking on a regular basis any more," said director of the Centre for Health Initiatives at UOW, Professor Sandra Jones.

"Our kids are not stupid. They see news coverage of excessive drinking and violence, and don't want to be like that."

Professor Sandra Jones is pleased to see figures showing youth drinking reducing in recent years.Picture: ADAM McLEAN

Professor Sandra Jones is pleased to see figures showing youth drinking reducing in recent years.Picture: ADAM McLEAN

The study cites a number of reasons for the phenomenon, which contradicts perceptions of out-of-control teen drinking.

Among them are a wider cultural shift around alcohol, migrants from countries where drinking is less widespread, and most notably, that teens may be more interested in social media than drinking.

"[Technology] may have displaced other leisure activities … including those involving alcohol," the UNSW study states, citing Swedish studies noting lower consumption among young people who engage with technology.

For Prof Jones, however, that sells short the increasing maturity of today's youth.

"It may be part of the reason, but young people are smarter than we give them credit for," she said.

"They're making more responsible choices, choosing to not start drinking."

David St Quintin, a clinical psychologist with the Illawarra Drug and Alcohol Service, said this spelled good news later in life.

"Research shows crucial parts of the brain associated with intelligent planning don't develop fully until age 25," he said.

"Anything we can do to delay onset of drinking allows development to occur properly."

Mr St Quintin said he too had seen a marked drop in youth drinking: "Young people are making good decisions, which is a really positive thing that is often forgotten."

Young Australians have swapped bitter for Twitter and schnapps for SnapChat, according to new research suggesting adolescents are ditching booze because they’re hooked on the internet.

The University of NSW (UNSW) study shows 50per cent of 14 to 17 year olds now abstain from alcohol, compared to 33per cent in 2001.

Consumption of illicit drugs is also said to have fallen among the same age group.

And the internet could be a key reason behind the shift, with young people distracted by social media and other online activities.

‘‘Going online is an activity that has taken up some space that was previously taken up by drinking or partying,’’ UNSW’s Dr Michael Livingston said.

‘‘It’s a potential upside to ‘screen time’ and some of the things you hear about Facebook – there might be a real positive there.’’

Greater awareness about the harm caused by alcohol is another reason for the fall in drinking rates among Australian adolescents, Dr Livingston said.

Immigration from countries with lesser drinking cultures is also said to have played a role.

Nearly two-thirds of young people living in homes where a second language is spoken do not drink alcohol compared with just under half of those in English-only speaking households.

However, significant falls in alcohol consumption were recorded across a broad range of backgrounds and geographical and socio-economic groupings.

Dr Livingston said he would expect alcohol consumption rates among the 14 to 17-year-olds to rise once they reach adulthood.

But he expects the age group to end up drinking less than today’s adults.

It comes after Australian Bureau of Statistics data showed  that broader alcohol consumption fell for the sixth straight year in 2013, to a 17-year low.

Over the year, Australians aged 15 or over consumed an average of 9.88 litres of alcohol, or the equivalent of 2.2 standard drinks a day.   AAP 


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