June 28, 2017

Optimistic still, with a long way to go

picnic women

We've reported in the past about the downward trend of alcohol consumption by young people. We have celebrated the great news that fewer underage young people are drinking alcohol.

However research from the National Drug Research Institute at Curtin University, Monash University and the University of New South Wales points to the work that remains to be done to lessen alcohol related harm among Australia’s youth.

The new study found that a large minority of Australian teenagers are at risk of serious harm, as well as possible alcohol dependence, due to regular binge drinking.

Although one media outlet focussed on female drinking and reported “Heavy drinking girls down 14 glasses in one sitting”, male drinking was even heavier.

The group reported on in this study represented the heaviest drinkers in the 16-19 age group and reflected 20-25% of people aged 16-19. Males consumed an average of 17 standard drinks per session and females 14 standard drinks per session. This is dangerous drinking on any scale: 86% had already experienced a serious consequence from drinking and more than 25% were likely to be alcohol-dependent.

In the past twelve months, half of the group (47%) rode in a car where the driver was affected by alcohol, while 11% presented to a hospital emergency department at least once due to their drinking. Blackouts, feeling embarrassed and regretting impulsive behavior were also a concern.

Young people and risk

A common response from adults is to wonder why young people drink like that and put themselves at risk. Among those who are more likely to drink at risky levels are people living in rural and very remote areas and people who identify as lesbian, gay, queer, bisexual and transgender. Of course they are not the only groups who engage in risky drinking but it provides a clue: people who already feel disengaged or disrespected or lack opportunities for

To some degree it is also a reflection of the general culture and people see heavy drinking as a normal practice. In January this year Psychology Today reported that if you ask a young person why they drink you may be given a litany of reasons including:

  • “I was bored.”
  • “Everyone else does it.”
  • “I like how it makes me feel.”
  • “People like me when I drink because I act different.”
  • “I just wanted to see what it would make me feel like.”
  • “My parents do it so it must not be a big deal.”
  • “It helps me escape reality.”

Too many adults continue to provide the modelling for risky drinking and too many people feel alone, under valued and dispossessed. Until we learn to join the dots and create a more cohesive, respectful community, some young people will seek a solution in hazardous and harmful consumption.

If Australians still value the fair go, we'll have a better chance of ending much of the existing alcohol related harm.

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