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Rates of non-drinking among Australian adolescents aged 14-17 years have increased sharply over the past decade with over half now abstaining from alcohol.
The percentage of Australian adolescents who did not drink, defined as not drinking alcohol over the past 12 months, jumped from 33 per cent in 2001 to just over 50 per cent in 2010.
Dr Michael Livingston from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) said that the changes had occurred at roughly the same rate over a wide range of regional, socio-economic and demographic subgroups.
For example while young people living in remote areas were less likely to abstain than city dwellers, abstention in both groups had increased at roughly the same rate.
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.
But the rate of increase in abstainers compared with 2001 was roughly the same in both groups.
Rates of abstention declined sharply with age, with 73 per cent of 14 year olds classified as non-drinkers in 2010 compared with just under a third of 17 year olds. However rates of abstention in both age groups had increased significantly compared with 2001, when 57 per cent of 14 year olds and 18 per cent of 17 year olds had abstained from alcohol.
“The shift in drinking behaviour is likely the result of broad cultural factors,” said Dr Livingston.
“We have seen similar recent trends in the Nordic countries and the United States of America, all countries with strong temperance traditions and increasing public concern about adolescent drinking.
“Also, the Australian population is increasingly multicultural, with a steady rise in residents from typically lighter-drinking cultures. So the trend toward alcohol abstention among Australian adolescents could have something to do with deep cultural beliefs, increased social concerns about young drinkers, and subtle changes in immigration.”
He said it remains to be seen whether these changes will be carried through as this group ages. In 2010 young adults between 18-29 years were more likely than any other age group to consume alcohol in quantities that place them at risk of injury or other harm over their lifetime.
Around one in five Australians reported drinking alcohol at a level that puts them at risk of harm or injury over their lifetime.
Livingston M. Trends in non-drinking amongst Australian adolescents. Addiction, 109: doi: 10.1111/add.12524
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The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at UNSW is supported by funding from the Australian Government under the Substance Misuse Prevention and Service Improvements Grants Fund.