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Alcohol and young people

Here is an Opinion Piece I was asked to put together for the Newcastle Herald
in February 2010 ….

Alcohol has always played a role in some young people’s lives. No
matter what your age, if you cast your mind back to your final years of high
school there were surely at least a small group of your classmates who were well
known for their partying habits! Are we to believe today’s headlines that things
are so dramatically different now?

Firstly, let me make something
completely clear – we really have no evidence to indicate that we have more
young people drinking than ever before. However, what we do appear to have is a
hardcore group of risky drinkers who are drinking in a far more risky way than
ever before. As already said, this group of risky drinkers have always been
there – it’s just now they’re starting younger, drinking more, more often, and
possibly most frighteningly their drink of choice is spirits, particularly
vodka. So if they are such a small group why should we be so

These young people, both male and female, are loud, they’re
obvious and they attract a great deal of attention. These are the teenagers who
get in trouble with the law, find themselves in accident and emergency rooms and
find their stories on the front pages of newspapers across the country. As a
result it appears that they’re a much larger group in number than they really
are. Unfortunately, they’re also extremely influential and as a result their
behaviour is perceived as the ‘norm’ by other young people. The belief that
‘everyone is doing this’ is extremely dangerous and needs to be challenged at
every opportunity.

Adolescent drinking should really come as no real
surprise. Drinking to the point of intoxication has become so normalised across
our society that why wouldn’t our young people drink at high levels? Simply
examine the role models that our children have to follow and it isn’t difficult
to understand the pressures they face. What do they see in their own home? How
do the celebrities and sport stars they look up to socialize? What is the one
constant at almost every celebration in our society – whether it be a birth, a
death, a victory or a loss? Alcohol is all pervasive and in recent years it
appears to have gotten completely out of control.

One tragic consequence
of this is young people dying. Over the years I have been involved with a number
of teenagers who have died after drinking large amounts of alcohol. The last
five schools I have been to where young people died all involved Year 10 girls
who all died after each of them drank almost a bottle of vodka. None of these
girls died alone. They all died in party settings and were being looked after by
friends who were so drunk they really couldn’t look after themselves, let alone
anyone else!

The Australian Government has made a commitment to dealing
with the ‘teenage drinking issue’. A mass media campaign, a National Binge
Drinking Strategy and funding of a range of community programs across the
country have been rolled out but really what’s the point? What is the sense of
pouring money into trying to deal with underage drinking if you don’t really
deal with the problem for what it really is – a community issue?

people learn from watching those around them. Unless we address the wider
community issues that we are facing with alcohol we will continue to see money
poured into the ‘black hole’ that is underage drinking and nothing much will
change. We know what will work when it comes to reducing alcohol problems in
this country but none of the possible solutions are popular. Raising the price,
reducing access and stopping alcohol advertising and sponsorship of sport are
most likely to be the most effective ways to make real change, but it would be a
very brave government who would really push any of these through. Try to reduce
the average Australian’s access to alcohol and they will most probably find
themselves out of power at the next election! That means we will continue to see
lots of talk and most probably not a whole lot of real results and that is truly
tragic for our kids.

Looking for information or support services on alcohol or drugs?

If you or a friend or family member needs assistance in this area, Alcohol and Drug Information Services (ADIS) are available in every state and territory. Each of these are each staffed by trained professionals who can help with your query and provide confidential advice or refer you to an appropriate service in your area.

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