By Grant J Everett
Scoff if you want, but numbers from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) indicate that today’s teens are LESS indulgent in drugs, alcohol and cigarettes than previous generations. This might be hard to accept thanks to a media avalanche telling us that all Aussie youths are a pack of binge-drinking, coward-punching, alcopop-chugging brats.
The ABS has reported that since the start of the 21st Century our alcohol consumption has dropped to its lowest point since the early 1960s. If you go a bit deeper, it seems this decline is mostly due to a massive reduction in youth drinking. According to the National Drug Strategy Household Survey in 2013, between 2004 and 2013 the percentage of kids aged from 12 to 15 who reported having a drink in the past twelve months has halved from 35% to 18%. And although the number of kids aged 16 or 17 who had a drink in the last year was substantially higher than that, their demographic has also experienced a sharp decline from 81% in 2004 to 59% in 2013. The rates of risky drinking among teens have fallen, too. In fact, Australian teenagers are now drinking less grog than at any other time since these surveys began in the early 1980s, and these trends seem to be part of a global shift. A paper in The European Journal of Public Health looked into rates of teen drinking in a total of 28 countries, and identified significant declines in underage drinking in 20 of them. In the UK, Canada and Sweden (countries that possess similar drinking cultures to Australia), teen drinking has actually been split in two.
Young Australians who are in their early adulthood years (between 18 and 24) are less likely to indulge in risky levels of drinking, and the number of young adults who get totally paralytic on a Friday night has dropped from 32% in 2010 to 22% in 2013. Unfortunately for those of us who’ve left our teenage years far behind, Australians 30 or older are still throwing back just as many schooners as ever.
Lots of young people confirmed that exercising, eating well and avoiding alcohol and other drugs are all important lifestyle choices, which is doubtlessly an important factor in the declining use of drink, drugs and durries among our youth.
How teens perceive drinking has changed a lot, too. Dr Nicola Newton and Dr Lexine Stapinski from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre said that when they asked Australian youths which substances are the most destructive, 50% saw ice as the very worst offender, followed by alcohol at 29%. The good doctors also mentioned that only about half of all kids aged between 14 and 19 have drunk alcohol, and a mere 2% trying methamphetamine. And in case you’re wondering if teenagers are merely migrating from booze to illicit substances, rates of cannabis and amphetamine use have both declined in the past decade, too.
It’s fantastic news that kids are either abstaining from alcohol or starting to drink it later in life, as this will give their developing brains the best chance of reaching their fullest potential. As the human brain doesn’t mature until 24, hitting it with foreign chemicals (even legal ones) is bad news. By not slamming their grey matter with dope, these kids will have a chance to properly develop and do everything they want to do in life. Hopefully this reduction in substance use will also result in less young people developing mental health issues, too.
Rates of smoking among young people in Australia have dropped to a record low, and there’s hope it could be the early signs of a smoke-free generation. In 2014, less than 7% of teens described themselves as smokers, whereas two decades ago it was 23.5% (according to Anita Dessaix from the Cancer Institute of New South Wales). The latest figures show that in the past 20 years the number of adolescents who smoke has reduced by over 70%. It’s thought that our multi-pronged assault on smoking – such as the plain packaging laws, constant price increases, the expansion of smoke-free areas, the long-established ban of selling cigarettes to minors, and public education campaigns – has been a major part of this shift. Although these drawbacks might be merely irritating to older smokers, the numbers indicate that it’s having an impact of those who haven’t gotten hooked yet.
The tobacco industry must be quaking at this news, because their business model relies on pinning down as many people as possible at a young age. After all, when your product has the unfortunate habit of killing its customers, you need a steady supply of new ones to take their place! In the greater scheme of things, less smokers means less preventable diseases among our population, and this alone has the potential to save billions of dollars worldwide.
As somebody who used to waste a lot of time and money smoking assorted substances, things have definitely changed. Let’s hope the NEXT generation can do even better.