Underage drinking: How teens can easily buy booze

A boom in online delivery services has made underage drinking easier for teens. So how can parents talk to kids about alcohol risks?

Underage drinking just became that bit easier thanks to a rapid rise in online liquor delivery services.

A new Australian study has found it is now simple for teenagers to order booze and have it delivered.

Researchers at the Northern Sydney Local Health District found online liquor licences in NSW increased fivefold from 2010 to 2018.

However, the authors found 60 per cent of those businesses fail to check IDs or meet other legal requirements.

Online booze orders an ‘increased risk’

Meanwhile, 22 per cent of retailers did not specify on their websites that someone aged 18 or over must accept the delivery.

The study revealed evidence the “growth in online liquor has been accompanied by increased risk of supply to young people”.

Underage drinking on the decline

National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre director Professor Michael Farrell says overall the incidence of underage drinking – and the amount being consumed – is falling.

Prof Farrell say there is speculation about the reasons for this.

It may be young people are socialising online more, or have better health and wellbeing awareness than previous generations.

While the decline in underage drinking is positive, Prof Farrell says it is still a problem.

“It doesn’t mean there isn’t a sub-group who are underage drinking in a significant and problematic manner.”

He says the lack of regulation around online purchasing is clearly “a cause for concern”.

The dangers of underage drinking

Youth mental health service ReachOut says alcohol can affect how teenagers function, recognise risks and ability to make good decisions.

Teens under the influence are more likely to put themselves in risky situations that may result in harm to themselves or others.

Prof Farrell says drinking can affect the frontal executive functions of the developing brain, such as being organised and focused.

“That part of the brain actually continues to mature into the late 20s,” he says.

Should underage drinking be allowed at home?

A recent snapshot by the Australian Institute of Family Studies showed about one in four Australians aged 16 to 17 were allowed to drink at home.

Lead researcher Dr Brendan Quinn said all alcohol use was associated with a higher risk of harm.

He recommended parents to encourage their children to delay their first drink for as long as possible.

Start the conversation early

ReachOut Parents online community coordinator Janine Nelson says early conversations and education around underage drinking are key.

Research shows the average Australian has their first full serve of alcohol just before they turn 16.

“These conversations should be happening well before your teen reaches the legal drinking age,” she says.

“You’ll need to keep talking about it through the teenage years as your child starts drinking with less supervision.”

Role model responsible drinking

Janine says role modelling can be a particularly powerful strategy to set your teen on the right course.

“If your child sees you drinking responsibly – and not just drinking to get drunk – they’ll be more likely to adopt similar behaviours.”

She recommends limiting your alcohol intake around your teen and sometimes attending social functions without drinking

“This can show it isn’t an essential element of being social, having fun or feeling included.”

Setting boundaries around alcohol

So how do you make sure your teen is OK, while still giving them some freedom to have fun and experiment?

Janine says every family will have their own set of rules that works for them.

“Regardless of the rules you choose to set with your teen it’s important to talk about them and explain why you think those particular boundaries are appropriate.

“Listen to any feedback your teen might have and also be clear that they can come to you if they need help.”

Written by Larissa Ham.