Underage drinking, drug use and low mental health main issues for under-35s

On average people aged 34 and younger first tried alcohol more than two years earlier than those aged 5o and over.
Underage drinking, drug use and low mental health main issues for under-35s

Kenneth Fox

A new survey highlights the worrying trends among under-35s which include the age of their first drink, illicit drug use and low mental health.

The survey by Drinkaware, the national charity working to prevent and reduce alcohol misuse, released their key findings from the Drinkaware Annual Barometer for 2022.

It found the age of first drink in Ireland is getting younger, those aged between 18 and 34 years are more likely to engage in drug use, and low levels of mental wellbeing are also prominent amongst this age group.

On average people aged 34 and younger first tried alcohol more than two years earlier than those aged 50 and over.

The average age of first drink across the adult population is 15.8 years, for those aged 50 plus the average age for their first drink was 17 years.

For those aged 34 and under, the average age for first drink, drops to 14.8 years.

The survey found 28 per cent reported that they first drank alcohol aged 15 or younger, with the same amount reporting they were 18 years or older when first trying alcohol (28 per cent).

However, 44 per cent of respondents reported having their first drink aged 15-17 years.

For the first time, the Drinkaware Annual Barometer asked questions regarding the use of illegal drugs.

62 per cent of those aged 34 and under said they ‘know people in my social group that either consume illicit drugs as a substitute for alcohol’, or use illicit drugs ‘with alcohol’.  This indicates high levels of poly drug use amongst this age cohort.

The under 35 years age cohort was also more likely to report low mental wellbeing than their older counterparts.

Binge drinking

Low mental wellbeing peaked for those aged 25-34 years at 45 per cent. In contrast to this just 14 per cent of those aged 65 and over reported low mental wellbeing.

The 25-34 year old cohort was also more likely to report ‘binge’ or ‘risky’ drinking in the past 30 days (68 per cent vs national average 55 per cent).

Speaking about the survey, chief executive of Drinkaware Sheena Horgan said: “Drinkaware passionately believes that alcohol has no place in childhood.

"Our primary goal to prevent and reduce alcohol mis-use and therefore includes delaying the age of first drink.

"72 per cent of Irish adults report that they first drank alcohol before the legal age of 18, but the pattern the research shows - that today’s younger people are starting to drink earlier than their older counterparts - is very worrying.

"Although other data points to the age of first drink as getting older in general, the use of averages across all age cohorts arguably obscures the grave escalation of underage drinking as the Barometer series of findings suggests."

She said binge-drinking, the use of illicit drugs as either a substitute or consumed alongside alcohol, is also concerning especially when viewed in parallel with the dramatic low levels of mental wellbeing reported.

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