National Drug Strategy
National Drug Strategy

Intergovernmental committee on Drugs working party on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders


Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders in Australia: An Update

June 2012

8.3 Social trends and interpersonal factors

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A number of major social changes have occurred over recent decades that impact significantly on the social and cultural world of young people, and young women in particular, which can have a powerful influence on a wide range of behaviours including drinking behaviours.

Key changes include the following:

The age at which young Australians start to drink has decreased significantly with every ten year cohort over the past 50 years drinking at an earlier and earlier age. The average age of commencing to drink is now 15 for both males and females. Drinking to the point of intoxication, by males and increasingly by females, is also more socially acceptable than it has ever been in contemporary times. The ability to buy and consume alcohol is also facilitated by the increased number of licensed outlets and the substantial reduction in the real
cost of alcohol products, coupled with intense and skilful campaigns that market alcohol products designed specifically to appeal to the young female palate.

Importantly, what young people drink has also changed with a significant shift in beverage preference to spirits, or spirit based drinks, having occurred over the past 5-10 years. Many spirit based drinks are sweetly flavoured, milk-based and taste more like a soft drink than an alcohol beverage. This shift in beverage preference is important in the context of FASD as it is easier to reach the point of intoxication or consume more alcohol than intended when consuming these types of products.

Drinking plays a central role in the social lives and leisure lifestyles of most young Australians. For young women it is especially linked to freedom, independence and equality. All principles that are held in high esteem by young people in general. Hence, drinking alcohol is increasingly common among young Australian women of child bearing age and its centrality in their lives is likely to increase rather than decrease over the coming years. Young women start to drink earlier, with more potent forms of alcohol and have established drinking patterns well before they are likely to consider having a child. Interventions and preventive strategies need to be mindful of the well established, if not entrenched, nature of drinking patterns and its social and symbolic significance in young women’s lives.

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