Apparently we have a drinking problem. A week or so ago, our Prime Minister identified what he described as a “binge drinking epidemic” as a priority for his government and our community to address. Now, the Australian Nation Council on Drugs has released figures that reveal the numbers of teenagers who not only drink, but do so at levels that would be excessive at any age. In any given week, one in ten teenagers from 12 to 17 abuse alcohol at the level where boys consume seven or more drinks in a day, and for girls, five or more drinks in a day.
While the first question is obviously where are they getting the alcohol in the first place, the bigger question is why do they think it’s normal or desirable? A big part of the problem is that kids learn their behaviour by following examples, not by following instructions. So when they see adults behaving as if drunkenness is a normal or desirable activity, the youngsters naturally follow suit. It might not be their parents, it might be role models in entertainment or advertising or just in their circle of acquaintances. But as long as society acts as if it’s cool to get smashed, then no amount of good advice or education is going to be completely successful.
The new research indicates that the age at which kids are turning to alcohol is younger than ever before. That’s not really a surprise when almost half a million kids are living in a home where the adults are themselves bingedrinkers. The end result is easily connected to the apparently increasing problems of public intoxication and violence. If kids are already binge drinkers by the time they are 16, what do you think they will be getting up to when they turn 18?
Part of the problem is that some people don’t even think there is a problem. This is not about being wowsers or stopping people from enjoying themselves. It is about stopping the harm to health and wellbeing caused by excessive drinking, which becomes vastly more devastating when the damage begins at an early age.