Monday, 27 July 2015

Adolescents and alcohol (2015 Term 3 Week 3)

Last week we were very pleased to host Paul Dillon from the Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia. Paul is one of Australia's leading authorities on issues to do with teenagers and illicit drugs. He spoke with our Year 10 and Year 11 students, as well as addressing teaching staff, conducting round-table discussions with the PDHPE staff and presenting to parents. 

Paul is very generous with his intellectual property; his presentations can be downloaded here, which may be of particular interest to parents who were unable to join us for the evening session. He also blogs here and here - this second site is particularly oriented towards young people and their questions about illicit drugs. The DARTA site also contains some helpful fact sheets and other resources.

There were four issues arising from Paul's presentations that I think are worth highlighting with the school community.

First, it's not all bad news when it comes to drugs and alcohol in Australia. The mainstream media have a tendency to sensationalise reporting on drugs and alcohol in a way that distorts the facts; bad news sells better than good news! As a result, many good news stories about drugs and alcohol are getting lost or downplayed. For example, alcohol consumption per capita in Australia is at the lowest level since 1965. In addition, the proportion of young people self-describing as non-drinkers is the highest since records began to be kept in 1984; 60% of Year 10 students describe themselves as non-drinkers, as do one in three 17 year olds.

Second, there are a large number of good reasons to attempt to delay or prevent the commencement of drinking. Brain development is negatively affected by alcohol and the adult brain does not finish maturing until well after adolescence. The earlier drinking starts, the greater the risk of future alochol-related problems, whether dependency or addiction. Young drinkers are also much more likely to become sexually active at an earlier age, with the associated risk; they are also more likely to become victims of violent crime. The disinhibiting affect of alcohol degrades an adolescent's already marginal capacity to make wise decisions.

Third, the primary responsibility for guiding teenagers through these years belongs with their parents. Parents need to be parents, not to be their teenager's best friend or one of the gang. The four key words in our relationships with our children are "I love you" and "No"! On a very practical level, if you want to delay or prevent risky drinking and/or illicit drug use:
  • Know where your child is
  • Know who they are with
  • Know when they will be home 
Fourth, it is not OK to provide young people under the age of 18 with alcohol. Under Section 117 of the New South Wales Liquor Act 2007 it is illegal to supply alcohol to people aged under 18 years in a private home unless it is supplied by the child’s parent or guardian, or an adult who had the approval of the child’s parent or guardian. A person convicted of secondary supply in NSW can be fined up to $11 000 for each underage drinker involved.

I commend the links provided earlier to you for your information and exploration. We anticipate continuing to have Paul work with us and our students over the next few years.

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