Tackling adolescent drinking in rural Australia

This article first appeared in ruralhealth.org click on the image above to download the full article.

In Australia, the rate of alcohol misuse and alcohol related harm is disproportionately higher in rural areas than in urban areas in adults as well as adolescents. Adolescents who live in rural areas are over 80 per cent more likely than their urban counterparts to have used alcohol in the past month.

Parents believe that introducing children to alcohol in a controlled setting will have positive effects and enable the parents to teach responsible drinking. However, studies suggest that parents providing alcohol to adolescents actually increases problem use later in life and allows rapid progression to unsupervised drinking.

This is worrying because the earlier an individual starts using alcohol, the higher their risk of developing alcohol related problems in adulthood. The National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2013 Compared adolescents living in major cities to adolescents who live in rural Australia and found they were twice as likely to obtain their first drink from their parents. They were also three times more likely to be currently getting their alcohol from their parents. Parents who live in rural Australia were 50 per cent more likely to be heavy drinkers and 40 per cent more likely to drink at home.

The higher prevalence of drinking frequently and heavily in rural area suggests that the pro-drinking culture among parents in rural area is likely to be an important explanation of the rural and urban disparity in adolescent drinking.

Parents often provide alcohol to adolescents because they believe it will minimalize harm but unfortunately, these practices may normalise underage drinking and send an inconsistent message to adolescents about alcohol use and its harm. The study also suggests the safest option is to delay drinking for as long as possible.

Parents need to be clearly informed about these guidelines to narrow the gap in alcohol misuse between rural and urban Australia, a parent-focused community-based prevention approach is required.

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