Irish teenagers drink less than most Europeans of same age

In Ireland 14% of girls and 21% of boys experience sexual intercourse by the age of 15

Irish teenagers have one of the lowest levels of alcohol consumption in Europe, according to the latest research from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The research, carried out with teenagers from 42 countries in Europe and north America between 2010 and 2014 found that only 1 per cent of 11-year-olds surveyed in Ireland reported drinking alcohol at least once a week. Some 2 per cent of Irish 13-year-olds said they drank at least once a week, while 4 per cent of 15 year-old-girls and 6 per cent of 15-year-old boys said they drank at least once a week.

Some 16 per of Irish 15-year-old girls and boys reported having been drunk on more than one occasion. Teens from Iceland were reported to have the lowest level of drunkenness while Denmark, Hungary, Lithuania, Bulgaria and Scotland topped the poll. In Denmark 38 per cent of teenage girls and 39 per cent of teenage boys say they have been drunk more than once.

The Health Behaviour in School-aged children study published on Tuesday found that weekly drinking is more common among teenage boys and that boys were more likely to report first drunkenness at or before the age of 13. Only in Greenland, Scotland and England did teenage girls have a tendency to become drunker than boys.


The latest Revenue Commissioners’ alcohol clearance data, also published on Tuesday, correlates with the WHO findings and reports that alcohol consumption in Ireland dropped 0.7 per cent between 2014 and 2015, continuing on from a long-term trend of consumption decline since 2001. According to the research, the consumption of beer and cider dropped in 2015 while the consumption of spirits and wine increased.


The WHO also revealed on Tuesday that the number of teens who first smoke at the age of 13 has dropped significantly since 2010, but warned that differences between gender and socioeconomic status are adversely affecting the health, well-being and lifestyle choices of millennials. The number of 15-year-old Europeans who reported having a first cigarette at the age of 13 or younger fell from 24 per cent to 17 per cent over the last four years.

Some 12 per cent of Irish 15-year-old boys and 9 per cent of 15-year-old girls reported first smoking aged 13 or younger.

The study reveals that in most countries boys were at greater risk of becoming overweight or obese than girls. However, results from Ireland found that 33 per cent of 11-year-old girls were obese or overweight compared to only 13 per cent of 11-year-old boys.

The research also found that 14 per cent of Irish girls and 21 per cent of Irish boys had had sexual intercourse by the age of 15. Bulgaria had the highest levels of sexual activity among 15-year-olds followed by Hungary, Denmark, Wales and Scotland.

Irish teens are more likely to use a condom during sexual intercourse rather than relying on the contraceptive pill, according to the study. Only 25 per cent of 15-year-old girls and 23 per cent of 15-year-old boys said they or their partner used the contraceptive pill the last time they had sexual intercourse. Meanwhile, 65 per cent of Irish 15 year-old girls and 64 per cent of boys said they or their partner used a condom during sex.

WHO Regional Director for Europe Dr Zsuzsanna Jakob warned that while advances had been made in adolescent health, many girls and children from lower income families continue to report poorer physical and mental health and lower rates of physical activity than boys and children from more affluent families.

“Health behaviours and social habits and attitudes acquired in the critical second decade of a young person’s life can carry on into adulthood and affect the entire life-course,” said Dr Jakab. “A good start can last a lifetime.”

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast