Drink Tank

Under 18. No Alcohol. The Safest Choice.

Under 18. No Alcohol. The Safest Choice. It may not be a message that everyone likes, but as with all of the National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines, it is advice based firmly in the evidence and is a message the community should be aware of to support informed decision-making.

Now in its second year, WA’s Alcohol.Think Again Parents, Young People and Alcohol campaign communicates the message that for under 18s no alcohol is the safest choice and supports parents in their important role in preventing harm to their children from alcohol.

The campaign is a joint initiative of the WA Government Drug and Alcohol Office, the McCusker Centre for Action on Alcohol and Youth and the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, with support from Healthway.

The current phase of the campaign features Dr Fiona Wood, the immensely well-respected Director of the Burns Unit at Royal Perth Hospital and a former Australian of the Year. As Dr Wood tells us in the radio ad, she has witnessed the damage alcohol can do to young people and her message is clear: the evidence tells us that we shouldn’t provide alcohol to anyone under 18.

As the campaign’s T.V. ad notes, a child’s brain continues to develop until their early 20s. Alcohol can affect a child’s developing brain, not only impacting on their problem solving skills and performance at school, but also potentially affecting their body, mood and mental health.

Ultimately, this campaign seeks to prevent alcohol-related harm among young people. So why target parents? Parents are a common source of alcohol for underage drinkers; turning off this tap would go a long way to reducing young people’s access to alcohol. Myths and misconceptions about the provision of alcohol to young people have proven hard to shake. While some parents give their children alcohol with the best of intentions, the available evidence points to early parental supply of alcohol as being associated with increased risks. Parents also have important roles in discussing alcohol with their children, role-modelling appropriate behaviours around alcohol, and communicating their expectations about their child’s behaviour.

As the school year comes to a close, thousands of school leavers will be heading to destinations around the country (and beyond) to celebrate the important milestone with their friends. For (too) many, alcohol will be involved.

Research with school leavers at a popular WA celebration site found that a quarter of ‘leavers’ were supplied alcohol by their parents. Of the ‘leavers’ supplied alcohol by their parents, 90% drank at levels considered risky for adults and 65% reported accessing alcohol from other sources which ‘topped up’ that provided by their parents.

The same research also found that more lenient parental attitudes to alcohol use may contribute to riskier alcohol use by young people: young people who perceived that their parents would approve of their alcohol use reported heavier drinking.

Parents should be well-supported in their role in preventing harm to their children from alcohol. While it’s early days for this campaign and it can reasonably be described as ‘modest’, particularly in the context of ubiquitous pro-alcohol messages, the Alcohol.Think Again Parents, Young People and Alcohol campaign makes an important contribution to community education strategies to prevent harm from alcohol among young people.



To find out more about the Alcohol.Think Again campaign, visit www.alcoholthinkagain.com.au.


Julia Stafford

Julia Stafford is the Alcohol Program Manager at Cancer Council Western Australia.


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