Half of Australian Parents Think Underage Drinking is Acceptable

Half of all Australian parents think teenagers should be allowed to drink alcohol before they turn 18, according to a survey conducted by health fund MBF. The findings also suggest that the concept has its greatest support among wealthy Australians.

New research also shows that one teenager a week dies as a result of alcohol abuse and that early exposure to alcohol can alter a teenager's still-developing brain.

The MBF Healthwatch survey found that 49.8 percent of adults believed people aged 15-17 should be allowed to consume alcohol at home under supervision. The idea had greatest support among those earning more than $100,000. Of this group, 63 percent thought underage drinking was acceptable.

MBF chief medical officer Dr. Christine Bennett said the statistics were both surprising and of concern, given that alcohol can have long-term implications for young adults.
"Some parents may think this is harmless, some may see this approach as a way to teach their teenage children about socially responsible drinking. But we want parents to understand early exposure may be doing damage," she said.

Dr. Bennett, who chaired the Rudd Government's Health and Hospital Reform Commission, said evidence suggested that the earlier the age that alcohol was introduced, the greater the risk of long-term alcohol-related health problems.

"Binge drinking in young people is on the rise. Too much alcohol impairs young people's judgment, which can lead to violence, injury and build a pattern of use that leads to lifetime dependence," she said.

"It's shocking to think one teenager a week dies of alcohol abuse. We teach children about the harmful effects of smoking, unsafe sex and taking illicit drugs but we also need to teach them about the damage that alcohol can do,” she added.

Brain and Mind Research Institute executive director Professor Ian Hickie said the survey highlighted the gap between medical evidence and parental actions.

"Parents need to understand that early exposure to alcohol can disturb key brain functions," he said.

Adults in Western Australia were the biggest supporters of underage drinking, with 59 percent saying teenage drinking was acceptable under supervision. Only 46 percent of adults in NSW and the ACT approved of teenage drinking.

Posted on December 1st, 2009

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