Increased tolerance among parents is the main reason put forward for what researchers have called the "dramatic increase" in Irish teenagers' drinking habits.
A survey of 2,000 Dublin secondary schools found that four out of five youngsters had tried alcohol at some stage, compared with two-thirds who responded in a similar-size survey in 1984. In the latest survey, carried out in 1991, almost 70 per cent of 14-year-olds had tried alcohol, while only 7 per cent of 17-year-olds said that they had never had a drink.
In fact, the levels of alcohol use among Irish teachers are higher now than among their United States counterparts, according to Drs Mark Morgan and Joel Grube, who carried out both studies for the Economic and Social Research Institute.
Boys still drink more than girls and are more likely to get drunk. But the latest study shows that the differences between the sexes have narrowed. The number of girls who reported being drunk six times or more had increased from 7.7 to 17.8 per cent. The researchers found that teenagers from well-off backgrounds were as likely to drink as those from less privileged families.
Beer was the favourite drink among young people, followed by spirits, wine and cider. The latest study attempted to pinpoint the reasons for the upsurge in teenage drinking. It ruled out a general increase in alcohol intake among the Irish, as levels have tapered off. It also ruled out a link between cigarette smoking and drinking, as there has been a small decline in smoking. There has been an increase in cannabis usage, but not in other substances.
The main change the authors uncovered was in parental attitudes, with fathers in particular becoming more indulgent of their teenagers' drinking. Friends were also more tolerant of drinking than they were a decade ago.
The authors warned of the danger of a proliferation of initiatives within schools to counter alcohol intake. They called for action at family, community and school levels to tackle the problem, but expressed pessimism about the prospects for reversing the trend.