raising the bar on alcohol consumption
What’s a summer BBQ, a lengthy cricket match, a birthday party or a live concert without a drink in hand? Not much, it seems. Alcohol, in whatever form, is generally an expected accompaniment to most social events. This prevalence of alcohol in Australian life has enticed many young Australians to begin to experiment with alcohol at a young age. As a reaction to the increase of binge drinking and alcohol related incidents, the NSW State Government engaged in discussions to raise the State’s legal drinking age to 21 from the current age of 18.
The proposal to raise the drinking age was initially made by Christian Democrat MP Reverend Fred Nile and NSW Premier Kristina Keneally agreed to discuss the suggestion with the NSW State Cabinet. Ultimately the decision was made to keep drinking age at 18 years, though, the fact that the issue was raised, yet again, on the cusp on the new year (and a new decade) shows that these issues are still so far from being resolved.
In reviewing articles and public opinion on the current epidemic of binge-drinking and negative flow of effects (drink driving, violence, brain and liver damage, for example) it appears that the two key influences on youth alcohol use are ‘cultural norms’ and their parents’ lifestyle. The pattern seems to be that, as children, we see our parents partake in regular social drinking (with some parents drinking significantly more or less than others). We are introduced to the idea that to have a beer, a wine or a champers on a regular basis is the norm. From here teens get curious, as teens do, and may stash a few of mum or dad’s alcoholic drinks, get together and see what the fuss is all about. When busted drinking underage, many teens are minimally punished due to a key point made on the Victorian Better Health website: ‘…parents are so alarmed at the thought of their children using harder drugs that alcohol is considered a lesser and more acceptable evil’.
Even if alcohol is the more acceptable evil, statistics show that in actual fact alcohol can contribute to more deaths and hospitalisations than hard drug use. Statistics from Better Health show that 3,430 Australians died due to alcohol use in 2003. It’s also stated that in 2001 there were 64,782 alcohol-related episodes resulting in hospitalisation. Both of these are more than those attributed to illicit drug use.
With these influences and statistics in mind, it really doesn’t seem like much would change by raising the drinking age when the contributing factors run deep in our cultural history and current practices. We have had TV campaigns (‘Don’t turn a night out into a nightmare’), radio and print drink driving campaigns, not to mention alcohol and drug information taught in high school and college. Gen-Y know more now than ever about the dangers and repercussions of irresponsible alcohol consumption. But, something is just not getting through as 70 Australians aged under 25 will be hospitalised due to alcohol-caused assault in an average week. And, on average, one in four hospitalisations of 15 -25 year olds happen because of alcohol.
It seems there are too many factors riding against a higher legal drinking age (rise in illicit drug use as an alternative, drink driving to travel where the legal age is 18, drain on police resources for lawbreakers) but if this trend of binge drinking, drunken violence and drink driving continues, young Australians will be lucky to see 21 at all.
Do you think raising the legal drinking age would help curb binge drinking?
Only a good alcohol abuse treatment program can effectively treat alcoholism, a disease that can affect people from all walks of life.
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