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Today's teenagers are turning their backs on Australia's excessive drinking culture, and shunning other drugs, in a change that has been dubbed a modern "youth revolution".

A study involving more than 41,000 Australian adolescents (average age 13.5) has observed a staggering drop in rates of teen alcohol consumption and smoking since 1999

At the turn of the century, almost 70 per cent of surveyed teenagers had already drunk alcohol. By 2015, that figure that dropped to 45 per cent, meaning high school students abstaining from alcohol are now in the majority.

An author of the study, Professor John Toumbourou​, said while the adult population were also showing signs of moderating their alcohol consumption, it did not compare to the sharp trend within the secondary school population.

"They are making changes that are much more dramatic to other age groups," said Professor Toumbourou, chair in health psychology at Deakin University.

"It's a new, youth-led revolution."

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If you had told me a few years ago that my husband and I would completely cut alcohol out of our life, I would’ve laughed you off sarcastically as we raised our wine glasses for yet another clink and sip and then mocked that ridiculous comment. I mean, come on, who doesn’t drink in today’s society? Apart from certain religious groups, pregnant women or recovering alcoholics.

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Key findings 

  • Change in alcohol consumption per capita was significantly and positively associated with change in both male and female head and neck cancer mortality, particularly among males and females aged 50 and above. 
  • Change in alcohol consumption per capita was significantly and positively associated with change in male liver cancer mortality, particularly among males aged 50-69. 
  • The results suggest that one litre decreases in annual alcohol consumption per capita were associated with reductions of 11.6 per cent in male and 7.3 per cent in female head and neck cancer mortality across a 20-year period. 
  • The results also suggest that one litre decreases in annual alcohol consumption per capita were associated with a reduction of male liver cancer mortality of 15.0 per cent across a 20-year period. 
  • In total, it is estimated from the analysis that about 6.5 per cent of male and 4.1 per cent of female head and neck cancer deaths were related to alcohol consumption in Australia between 1968 and 2011.
  • Alcohol consumption was estimated to be responsible for 8.4 per cent of male liver cancer deaths in Australia in the last 50 years

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Published 15 September 2017  By Tim Newman

Researchers uncover changes in brain activity associated with binge drinking. Earlier studies showed that alcoholic people have measurable changes in their resting brain activity. And now, for the first time, researchers find similar changes in the brains of non-alcoholic students who binge drink.

Non-bingers' and bingers' brains compared

When the neural activity of the two groups was compared, there were significant differences. More specifically, there was a measurable increase in beta and theta oscillations in the right temporal lobe - particularly the parahippocampal and fusiform gyri - and the occipital cortex.

The parahippocampal gyrus is believed to play a part in coding and retrieving memories. The fusiform gyrus does not have a well-defined role to date but seems to be involved in recognition. The occipital cortex deals with processing visual information.

Interestingly, the increased activity in these areas mirrors those found in the brains of chronic alcoholics.

The researchers believe that the alterations in brain activity might be early signs of alcohol-induced brain damage. Changes in these regions may indicate a reduction in their ability to respond to external stimuli, which may hamper information processing.

Younger brains are still developing, and the researchers believe that this might make them more vulnerable to alcohol damage.

"These features might be down to the particularly harmful effects of alcohol on young brains that are still in development, perhaps by delaying neuromaturational processes." Eduardo López-Caneda

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Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children

Just over 40% of teens reported having had a few sips of alcohol by the age of 15, but only 16% had consumed a full serve. Of those who had tried alcohol, 28% of boys and 15% of girls had done so before the age of 13.

This doesn’t mean that young teenagers who have tried alcohol are necessarily drinking to excess, just that they are sampling alcohol at a relatively young age. For most 14- and 15-year-olds, drinking alcohol was not a regular practice — only 7% had consumed an alcoholic drink in the month before their interview.

Parents’ regular, short-term, risky drinking was shown to be a strong factor in influencing their teenage children to try alcohol. Around 11% of mothers and 30% of fathers reported having at least five drinks on a single occasion at least twice a month.

Most parents did not drink daily; of those who did, more men than women exceeded guidelines for long-term risk.

graphic

Percentage of parents (of 12–to-13-year-olds) who drink at risky levels.

Friends also had a strong influence. Almost 40% of those who had at least one friend who drank alcohol had tried alcohol themselves, compared to only 5% of those who had no friends who drank.

Teens were also more likely to have tried alcohol if they were the only child, in the later stages of puberty, or in a single-parent household. But even after accounting for all these factors, there was still a significant association between parents’ drinking habits and adolescents’ alcohol use. Those whose parents drank at a risky level were most likely to have tried alcohol

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