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Alcohol and young people in Ireland

Recent trends show that young people in Ireland are starting to drink alcohol later in life and less often than in previous generations. This is good news because, under the age of 25, our brains are still developing, making them more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol on brain function and development. Also, when a young person delays drinking alcohol, they are less likely to become dependent on alcohol or drink harmfully than those who start drinking earlier.

Published: 28 November 2022

Alcohol and young people in Ireland

Recent trends show that young people in Ireland are starting to drink alcohol later in life and less often than in previous generations.
This is good news because, under the age of 25, our brains are still developing, making them more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol on brain function and development. Also, when a young person delays drinking alcohol, they are less likely to become dependent on alcohol or drink harmfully than those who start drinking earlier.

Why do young people drink?

Young people say that alcohol helps them enjoy parties and makes social gatherings more fun. What is most concerning is that some young people said that they drink alcohol because it helps them when they are feeling depressed or nervous, to forget about their problems or to cheer up.
The personality of a young person can be a big factor when it comes to alcohol use and patterns of alcohol consumption. Adolescents who are at increased risk have lower levels of optimism, self-esteem and resilience.
Alcohol is often the most commonly used and first substance used by young people in Ireland. It’s still one of the leading risk factors for death and disability among 15–24 year olds and can cause 200 diseases and injury conditions such as liver cirrhosis, heart disease and cancer.

Alcohol use in young people in Ireland

About 15.5% of young people in Ireland are drinking at 13 years. This increases to 90% by the time they reach 17/18 years. When we look at young people across Europe, the rates of alcohol use here aren’t exceptionally different. However, heavy episodic drinking, commonly known as binge drinking, and drunkenness is higher in Ireland than elsewhere.

What can help?

Further changes are needed to the environments in which young people live so that their exposure to alcohol is reduced. This means tackling the availability, acceptability and affordability of alcohol.
How this is achieved in complex and involves everyone in society including parents, peers, educators, policy-makers, public and civil servants, local authorities, and the public, not just young people alone.

Parents Matter

The good news is that parent’s matter. By having a positive relationship, setting clear rules and not giving young people alcohol, you can help delay when they start drinking, improving their health and wellbeing in the long and short term.

You will find information and advice here https://www2.hse.ie/wellbeing/alcohol/young-people-and-alcohol/ on talking to young people about alcohol, building resilience, what to do if your child has taken alcohol or drugs, and tips on safer socialising and managing parties and discos.

Additional support materials can be ordered from https://www.healthpromotion.ie/

View a list of alcohol support services here: https://www2.hse.ie/services/alcohol-support-and-services/

Doyle A, Sunday S, Galvin B, Mongan D (2022) Alcohol and other drug use among children and young people in Ireland: prevalence, risk and protective factors, consequences, responses, and policies. HRB Overview Series 12. Dublin: Health Research Board
Mangan-Ryan, A., McNamara, E., O'Mahony, D., Murphy, D. and O'Reilly, C., 2020. Growing Up in Ireland: Growing up and developing as an adult: A review of the literature on selected topics pertaining to cohort’98 at age 20 years. ESRI Report December 2020
Költő, A., Gavin, A., Molcho, M., Kelly, C., Walker, L. and Nic Gabhainn, S., 2020. The Irish Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) Study 2018. Department of Health & Health Promotion Research Centre, National University of Ireland, Dublin & Galway