Why limiting children’s exposure to alcohol marketing is so important

Comprehensive research now clearly tells us that alcohol marketing including advertising, sponsorship and other forms of promotion, increases the likelihood that adolescents will start to use alcohol, and to drink more if they are already using alcohol.

In short, children, and younger people, navigate a tsunami of alcohol promotion every day that ensures messages about drinking are increasingly normalised.

Research on young people’s drinking behaviour in Ireland suggests that there is a clear pattern of drinking ’initiation’ in Ireland with risky binge drinking behaviour starting in adolescence and continuing into early adulthood. This pattern can be seen in a range of data collected about Irish young people and their drinking. For example:

According to the Health Research Board’s ‘Alcohol consumption, alcohol related harm and alcohol policy’ (2021):

  • Early initiation of alcohol use may disrupt the emotional and cognitive development of adolescents and has been shown to increase risk of developing an alcohol us disorder later in life.
  • The principal factors associated with alcohol use among adolescents include parental factors, peer influence, availability, the influence of alcohol marketing as well as cultural and social norms.
  • 82% of Irish schoolchildren have consumed their first alcoholic drink by the age of 17 years.
  • Overall, 16% of boys and girls (13-17 year olds) report having ever been ‘really drunk’.
  • 15% of 13-year-olds and 31% of 14-year-olds have consumed alcohol in their lifetime.
  • Trends in lifetime use of alcohol among school aged children indicate (when current age population data is added) that over 50,000 children will commence drinking this year.
  • Spirits/liquor is the most popular type of alcohol drink (38%) amongst 17-year-olds, with cider (32%) and Beer (26%) next.
  • 30% of 15-year-olds who drink got their last alcoholic drink from their parent/guardian.

The HRB findings of the 2019-20 Irish National Drug & Alcohol Survey was the first to measure alcohol use disorder (AUD) using DSM-5 criteria.

  • The prevalence of last-year AUD among 15-24 years was 38% – over 150,000 young people.
  • Working within 2016 CSO census data, the findings indicate:

– Severe AUD is prevalent among 32,500 15–24-year olds;
– Moderate AUD among 46,500 15–24-year-olds, and
– Mild AUD among 75,000 15–24-year-olds.

As a society our aspirations and expectations of our young people are significant, whether it is across the areas of cultural excellence, educational achievement, entrepreneurial development or sporting success, their high demands on the next generation of nation builders. Yet, we seem to care little for the loss of potential or the limitations to prospects, visited on so many young people by the impact of alcohol harm.