National Drug Strategy
National Drug Strategy

Australian secondary school students' use of tobacco, alcohol, and over-the-counter and illicit substances in 2011

4.1 How many Australian secondary school students were involved with drinking alcohol in 2011?

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Understanding the prevalence of alcohol consumption among Australian secondary school students in 2011 allows an assessment of the extent to which alcohol consumption has permeated the current adolescent culture.

Table 4.1 shows the proportion of students in each age and gender group who reported use of alcohol in different recency periods. As the current NHMRC alcohol use guidelines recommend that people under the age of 18 years abstain from alcohol use, the proportions shown in Table 4.1 reflect the proportion of students that currently do not adhere to this guideline.

Table 4.1: Lifetime experience and current use of alcohol by secondary school students according to age and gender, Australia, 2011^

Never used
12 yrs
(%)
13 yrs
(%)
14 yrs
(%)
15 yrs
(%)
16 yrs
(%)
17 yrs
(%)
18 yrs
(%)
Males
40.6
35.0
24.7
19.4
12.8
10.5
24.8
Females
51.3
40.6
27.4
18.7
11.2
7.9
27.2
Total
45.9
37.8
26.0
19.1
12.0
9.1
26.0

Past year
12 yrs
(%)
13 yrs
(%)
14 yrs
(%)
15 yrs
(%)
16 yrs
(%)
17 yrs
(%)
18 yrs
(%)
Males
24.6
34.0
47.4
60.1
72.5
80.3
51.3
Females
17.8
30.2
44.4
60.2
75.4
82.5
50.1
Total
21.3
32.1
45.9
60.2
74.0
81.4
50.7

Past month
12 yrs
(%)
13 yrs
(%)
14 yrs
(%)
15 yrs
(%)
16 yrs
(%)
17 yrs
(%)
18 yrs
(%)
Males
10.9
13.9
23.1
34.7
46.4
59.9
29.6
Females
7.2
13.4
20.5
32.5
48.9
58.7
28.7
Total
9.1
13.7
21.8
33.6
47.7
59.3
29.1

Current drinker (consumed alcohol in past seven days)
12 yrs
(%)
13 yrs
(%)
14 yrs
(%)
15 yrs
(%)
16 yrs
(%)
17 yrs
(%)
18 yrs
(%)
Males
6.1
7.8
13.1
22.0
30.2
39.0
18.4
Females
4.2
8.0
10.7
18.0
28.3
34.5
16.4
Total
5.1
7.9
11.9
20.1
29.2
36.7
17.4
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Single occasion risky drinker (drank more than 4 drinks on one day in past seven days)
12 yrs
(%)
13 yrs
(%)
14 yrs
(%)
15 yrs
(%)
16 yrs
(%)
17 yrs
(%)
18 yrs
(%)
Males
0.8
1.1
3.1
8.0
14.9
22.0
7.4
Females
0.4
0.9
2.2
4.9
11.7
15.3
5.4
Total
0.6
1.0
2.6
6.4
13.3
18.5
6.4

^ Prevalence estimates are within  3.3% of the true population values (see section 2.6). See Appendix 4 for 95% Confidence interval estimates for different proportions for each age and gender group.

Experience with alcohol is high amongst secondary school students and use becomes more common as age increases. Just over half of all students had consumed alcohol in the year preceding the survey.

In regards to abstinence, only 26% of all students reported to have never consumed alcohol. Females were more likely to report that they abstained from alcohol consumption than males (p<0.01).

Students who drank alcohol in the preceding week were classified as ‘current drinkers’. The proportion of current drinkers increased with age (p<0.01) and peaked among 17-year-olds at 39% for males and 35% for females.

Gender differences in the prevalence of alcohol consumption in the past year, month and week were evident in the younger students. Among 12-year-olds, males were more likely than females to have consumed alcohol in the past year, month and week. Among 13-year-olds, males were more likely to have consumed alcohol in the past year than females and among 15-year-olds, males were more likely to have consumed alcohol than females in the last week (p<0.01). There were no significant gender differences in the prevalence of alcohol consumption among 16- or 17-year-olds.

Gender and age differences were examined among students who consumed more than four alcoholic drinks on at least one day of the preceding seven (putting themselves at risk of harm according to 2009 adult alcohol use guidelines). The percentage of all students who consumed alcohol at this level in the past week increased from one per cent among 12-year-olds to 19% among 17-year-olds. Gender differences were observed only among 15-, 16- and 17- year-olds, with more males drinking at a risky level compared to their female counterparts (p<0.01).

Table 4.2: Alcohol consumption among current drinkers# by age and gender, Australia, 2011

Average number of drinks
consumed by current
drinkers in past seven
days^:
12 yrs
(%)
13 yrs
(%)
14 yrs
(%)
15 yrs
(%)
16 yrs
(%)
17 yrs
(%)
18 yrs
(%)
Males
4.4
4.5
5.4
6.7
8.1
9.5
7.6
(se)
(1.3)
(0.6)
(0.5)
(0.4)
(0.3)
(0.4)
(0.2)
Females
2.9
3.7
4.7
4.7
6.0
6.7
5.6
(se)
(0.5)
(0.4)
(0.4)
(0.3)
(0.2)
(0.3)
(0.1)
Total
3.7
4.1
5.1
5.7
7.0
8.1
6.6
(se)
(0.7)
(0.4)
(0.3)
(0.3)
(0.2)
(0.2)
(0.1)

# Current drinkers: students who drank on any of the past seven days.
^ Means are based on unweighted data. Respondents indicating they consumed more than 20 drinks on any one day excluded from calculations of means.

Table 4.2 shows the average number of alcoholic drinks consumed by current drinkers in the seven days before the survey. The average number of drinks consumed was greater among male drinkers (7.6) than female drinkers (5.6), (p<0.01).

The average number of alcoholic drinks consumed by students in the seven days before the survey increased with age, from 3.7 drinks among 12-year-olds to 8.1 drinks among 17-year-olds (p<0.01).

The proportion of current drinkers drinking more than four drinks on at least one occasion in the seven days before the survey increased with age. Around 11% of 12-year-old who were current drinkers consumed alcohol at this level and this increased to around 51% among 17-year-old current drinkers (p<0.01). More male current drinkers reported to be drinking at this level than females (p<0.01).


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