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Binge drinking teens

By John Herron - posted Monday, 17 March 2008

There’s no doubt that society is concerned with what’s happening with alcohol and drugs. Alcohol and drugs can be a substantial issue for young people. A major new report - Supporting the Families of Young People with Problematic Drug Use: Investigating Support Options (PDF 854KB) - commissioned by the Australian National Council on Drugs says it is critical that there is much more support available for families coping with young people who are either binge drinking or have issues with drugs.

We want to highlight that the biggest problem Australian families are facing when it comes to substance misuse is young people binge drinking.

We want to raise awareness about the fact that family members should be able to get support and assistance in their own right. We have found that many family members helping people with drug or alcohol issues frequently aren’t getting the right information or support - and end up feeling isolated and confused.


The report shows that many Australian families are now routinely faced with a young person with binge drinking problems - often creating enormous pressures on the family. We have found that many treatment providers in Australia do not have the resources to provide any direct services for family members who have a young person with alcohol or drug issues.

The ANCD is highlighting that figures now show:

  • in any given week approximately 1 in 10 (or 168,000) 12 to 17-year-olds reported binge drinking/drinking at harmful levels (males were drinking seven or more drinks on the day and females five or more on the day);
  • in any given week 1 in 10 (or 31,325) 15-year-olds reported binge drinking/drinking at harmful levels;
  • in any given week 1 in 5 (or 54,116) 16-year-olds drank at harmful levels; and
  • in any given week 1 in 5 (or 59,176) 17-year-olds reported binge drinking/drinking at harmful levels.

Much greater investment needs to be put into treatment and support to help families who have young people with alcohol or drug misuse issues.

We at the ANCD are enormously concerned about the high rates of binge drinking. What this report clearly says is that drug and alcohol use by young people has become normalised and is often seen as a rite of passage to adulthood. It is clear from the report that parents have an important role in influencing what happens to their children. Adolescents are less likely to drink and engage in binge drinking if parents actively disapprove. Enhanced parental monitoring is the most effective strategy to minimise the risk of adolescents ending up drinking at risky levels once they start to experiment - according to the report.

It is clear many Australian families are facing issues with alcohol and other drugs - with a significant number of children living in a household where there is a binge drinker and a large number of Australian schoolchildren who have issues themselves with alcohol.


This new report might surprise people. It tells us that families are not getting the support they need - and often parents don’t get accurate or helpful information. They feel isolated and confused but they do not know where to go for help. They sometimes also feel ashamed or guilty and this makes it hard to seek help. Parents dealing with alcohol and drug issues with their children can benefit from professional advice.

Drug use impacts on everyone in a family. If we are to respond to this we need alcohol, drug and other services to recognise the value of a focus on the needs of families.  Funding bodies are short sighted if they do not provide for this broader focus as it can alleviate significant stress and reduce other problems in the community; beyond just the person with problematic alcohol or drug use. We simply cannot underestimate the harms that occur for all family members - including siblings - when a young person is in trouble with alcohol or drugs.

There is now strong evidence to show that a family based approach to treating a young person with substance misuse issues can be effective.

This new report follows the release last year of a major ANCD report that looked at number of children living in households where an adult has alcohol or drug issues. Since that time the authors have undertaken further analysis and now estimate:

  • at least 451,000 children live in a household where they are at risk of exposure to binge drinking by one adult;
  • 78,000 children live in a household where there is at least one daily cannabis user; and
  • 27,000 children live in a household where an adult is using methamphetamines monthly.

We want to highlight that treatment works. More people than ever are now in treatment. Unquestionably there needs to be more treatment places for young people and more ongoing assistance for families. A greater level of resources needs to be made available to treatment and support services that are assisting families with young people who have issues with drugs or alcohol.

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Figures used in the new report by the 4 authors includes data from the Australian Secondary Students’ Alcohol and Drugs Survey prepared by White and Hayman and the Victorian Department of Human Services’ Victorian Youth Alcohol and Drug Survey . The Australian Secondary Students Alcohol and Drugs Survey was a survey of approximately 21,000 12- 17-year-olds. Modeling was then applied to the data using ABS statistics by the authors of the report.
You can see more about the ANCD at Contact: Ross Woodward on (03) 9769 6488.

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About the Author

Dr John Herron is the Chairman of the Australian National Council on Drugs. He was formerly a Liberal Senator for Queensland and the Ambassador to Ireland.

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