25% of senior cycle students are problem drinkers

Nearly 10% of senior cycle students drink “dangerous levels” of alcohol — and another quarter engage in “problem drinking”.

One-in-six students in fifth and sixth year have injured themselves or somebody else when drinking.

A study by UCD psychologists found that one fifth of all students suffered from moderate to very severe levels of depression, and that excessive drinking increased the risk of depressive symptoms.

The research was conducted among 6,000 adolescents, aged between 12 and 19, in 72 randomly selected post-primary schools across the country.

UCD school of psychology academics Amanda Fitzgerald and Barbara Dooley, who is also director of research at youth mental health body Headstrong, said more than 9% of respondents fell into categories “indicative of dangerous levels of drinking”.

They said those categorised as hazardous or possible dependent drinkers included people who suffered “injuries, blackouts, or loss of control over drinking”.

The study, published in Psychiatry Professional, found that 16% of those in senior cycle reported having injured themselves or somebody else when drinking.

Half of all pupils reported never drinking.

Of the respondents, 22% drank less than once a month, 18% drank monthly and 10% weekly.

It found that while 83% of first-year students said they had never drank, by sixth year that had fallen to 8.5%.

By fifth year, 32% were drinking monthly and a further 19% were drinking weekly. By sixth year, 28% were drinking weekly.

Binge drinking (six or more drinks in one session) rose with age. By fifth year, 35% reported binge-drinking monthly and 18% wee-kly. By sixth year, this was 36% and 24% respectively.

By sixth year, 24% were consuming seven to nine drinks a session, with 14% consuming 10 or more. This progression was more evident among females.

The study found that 30% of pupils had some level of depression, 11% mild, 11% moderate, 4% severe, and 4% very severe. There was a “strong association” between drinking behaviour and severity of depression.

The authors said they could not say whether mental health distress prompted alcohol consumption or the other way around, but said tackling alcohol behaviour would lower risk factors and increase protective factors.

They said alcohol habits also affected students’ personal competence, family conflict, and school misconduct. “These findings demonstrate that there is a significant shift in the frequency, binge-drinking and volume of alcohol consumed across the school year, where alcohol use becomes a particular concern among adolescents in the senior cycle,” they said.

They called for strategies to strengthen personal and social protective factors, increase family cohesion and reduce alcohol availability.

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