BACKGROUND AND AIMS: Recent evidence suggests that there has been a sharp increase in non-drinking among Australian adolescents. This study aimed to explore the socio-demographic patterns of this increase to identify the potential causal factors. DESIGN: Two waves (2001 and 2010) of cross-sectional data from the National Drug Strategy Household Survey, a large-scale population survey. Logistic regression analyses were used to identify significant changes over time, with interaction terms used to test whether trends varied by respondent characteristics. SETTING: Australia. PARTICIPANTS: Respondents aged 14-17 years (n = 1477 in 2001 and 1075 in 2010). MEASUREMENTS: The key outcome measure was 12-month abstention from alcohol. Socio-demographic variables including sex, age, income, socio-economic status, state and rurality were examined. FINDINGS: Rates of abstention increased overall from 32.9% [95% confidence interval (CI) = 30.0-35.7%) to 50.2% (95% CI = 46.7-53.6%) (P < 0.01). Abstention increased significantly across all population subgroups examined. CONCLUSIONS: A broad change in drinking behaviour has occurred among Australian adolescents in the last decade, with rates of abstention among 14-17-year-olds increasing markedly. Increases in abstention have occurred consistently across a wide range of population subgroups defined by demographic, socio-economic and regional factors.