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Youth binge-drinking: A question of responsibility

This contribution has been submitted to Webdiary by a student in the Online Journalism unit for the Masters in Media Practice and Masters in Publishing courses at The University of Sydney as part of the unit's assessment. The topics covered in the pieces awaiting publication are interesting – and diverse. We hope that Webdiarists will enjoy reading them, as well as giving these aspiring journalists plenty of constructive commentary.


Youth binge-drinking: A question of responsibility
by Julia Stolzenberg

A recent government initiative takes the battle against youth binge-drinking to a new level. On 10 September 2008, additional legislation to tackle the excessive alcohol culture of Australia’s teenagers was launched by the State Parliament. But this time the target is not the liquor industry; it is parents who will face fines of up to $6000 for recklessly supplying liquor to minors. With this latest measure the government hopes to go against a trend that has long since become an alarming national issue.

According to the Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation (AER) Foundation, 23% of male teenagers (16 – 24 years) regularly consume more than 20 standard drinks (10 grams of alcohol each) per day which is ten times the NHMRC 2007 draft safe drinking guidelines level; with girls of the same age exceeding the level five times. Whether the government’s alcopop tax adopted in April 2008 has reduced teenage alcohol consumption is still strongly disputed: “yes” says the Australian Drug Foundation; “no” the liquor industry, claiming the opposite effect due to an increase in spirits sales. Knowing the reality is difficult since not all the alcohol sales data is publicly available.

What is not disputable, though, is that binge-drinking is a problem deeply rooted in the Australian society; a society which does not just accept alcohol, but encourages drinking through its attitude that non-drinkers are boring “party-poopers”.

Let’s ask ourselves: Who would think of celebrating mateship with a glass of mineral water? Who would have a dry ANZAC day? Alcohol is a central part of Australian social and cultural events which we mark as significant by drinking. Or, as a reader recently commented in The Courier Mail:

Binge-drinking is the Australian way. All real Aussies love to binge.

So I believe overt intoxication is certainly not just about young people; it is part of Australia’s dubious relationship with alcohol that, according to AER, comes at a social cost of $15 billion per year. As long as booze-ups are officially part of “being Aussie” – as a youtube video impressively illustrates – it is unsurprising that adolescents seeking their identity are hitting the bottle so hard. What Australia needs is an approach that focuses on all age groups and their attitudes towards alcohol. It is time to stop “turning a blind eye” to risky drinking, as AER Chairman, Professor Ian Webster, phrases it.

I think it is wrong, however, to believe that the government can fight this battle alone and it should not have to. It would certainly be useful if we had strategies to tackle excessive drinking on several levels including “social marketing, general education about the effects and risks and well-publicised legal action in cases resulting from binge-drinking” as “Of Substance” (www.ofsubstance.org.au) Managing Editor Jenny Tinworth suggests. But we should not forget that binge-drinking to a large extent within our own control. It is time that parents reflect on their role as examples and the new law might be an effective tool in reminding them of their responsibilities. Yet, I believe it is naïve to think that a change of mind can happen overnight. According to latest figures, 33% of parents plan to supply their children with alcohol for this year’s Schoolies Week (The Courier Mail 14 September 2008).


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kids don't always need kid gloves

I would have to whole heartedly agree with Joanna on this one: it’s a definite media beat up. Regardless, I also think the government is using this as an opportunity to inflate already exorbitant alcohol taxes.

I know I have read somewhere that the Australian government gets a very large percentage of their revenue from alcohol taxes, cigarette taxes and gaming machines.

In inflating the prices on alcopops it seems to me that the government has been very smart. Alcopops, when compared with wine and beer, represent a small percentage of the alcohol market. Furthermore, the major customers for this type of alcohol (teenagers) really have little, or no, real purchasing power (in this market). They also have little opportunity to argue against the price increase, and are likely to be ignored if they do. Coupled with the government and medias arguments – “it’s for their own good” – it seems to me that the government has found a dream combination. That is, a way to raise a tax, completely justify it, and not really have to worry about too much of a backlash.

The fact is, teenagers drink, and will always drink. It is also a fact that, when the time comes, most mature and grow up.

I also think that when it comes to drugs and alcohol, education is the most important thing. And to me the responsibility for education should definitely involve parents at home, and parents at home teaching their kids the right way to drink – and sometimes letting their kids make the mistake of drinking too much.

Maybe a law like the one mentioned is good to remind parents of their responsibility, but I largely think this is what the issue of binge-drinking should come down to: the parents’ responsibility.

alcohol alcohol achohol alcmolol alchlmoooo...

You know, I'm not really sure it is just a media beat up. Just because previous generations have had similar issues before doesn't mean it's not a problem. Yes, the media exaggerates, but I think there is quite a lot of truth in their argument.

My year spent in Bologna, Italy on an overseas exchange program completely opened up my eyes to the fact that Aussies really do have such a different attitude to drinking. Most of my Italian friends and people I spoke to had never been so drunk that they felt they were out of their own control. The streets, piazzas and nightclubs were testament to that. Not once did I see in that whole year an Italian getting kicked out of a club for being too drunk or rowdy. From what I can tell drinking too much is looked down upon and not considered  'molto bello'. I'm convinced it's to do with the fact that most Italians are quite concerned with their appearance and would never like to be seen as slovenly, but there is a deeper respect for the way food and drink is consumed.

I agree that it is largely the parent's responsibility. One Italian friend Alessandro explained to me that his grandfather used to give him a sip of campari every night before bed from the age of 1 in ever increasing amounts until he was old enough to pour his own, and so alcohol for him now is a normality to be consumed in moderation.

Has anyone actually gone for their RSA? I have... I'm pretty sure the supervisor left the answers on the board before he left us all in the room unsupervised to complete the test. And after my fake ID (thank you Thailand) got confiscated after many succesful purchases, my older sister proved her worth in nipping up to the Bottle-O provided I returned the favour.

Parental guidance

I love the ad on TV at the moment about 'Children see, Children do', very powerful.

So as adults, think about our past and how we were influenced early on in life. Regardless of alcohol, drugs or physical abuse we grow up believing we are right and our world is normal.


Alcohol is a drug and should be taken in moderation, like any other drug. Otherwise it will kill you.


Karaoke: the not-so silent killer

Now if only K-Rudd would follow suit and add a karaoke tax. I can see it now:

"Before we'll allow you to, er, sing Miss Egan, you'll have to cough up $10 (everyone knows that 10% of nothing is 10), and then we'll press play on that awful Alanis Morrisette song for the fifth time tonight.''

"Sure thing", I'd respond jovially, "I'll handover the cash just as soon as I remember the PIN to my ATM card".

Crime prevention in the making. Society would be all the better for it.

Shocked? Moi?

Yes, I was when I first saw it, Jenny Hume.   However, there is nothing except excellent, religious  sentiment in there, apart from the references to Fornicating under consent of the king.   Whatever happened to the old Fornication and unlawful carnal knowledge explanation of yore?

I like to think of you and the atheist as represented in the last screens, Jenny.  (That's a joke, btw).

Taken as such

F Kendall: "That's a joke, btw"

And taken as such my dear. As for the old explanation, I like mine better. Who better than Henry VIII could set a better rule for the masses and another for himself?

Enough of this now. BTW I never gave you that list of old hymns, remind me sometime.

Did someone say there was free booze here?

In actual fact Hitler did only have one ball: the right one. If he did all that with one ball imagine what he would have done with two.

Now what's all this about binge drinking?

Alcohol is a terrible drug; it should be banned. But since it is not I suppose that it is my duty as a responsible consumer to keep the economy ticking over.

The taxes I paid included in the price of the booze and lunch I consumed today will do wonders for our economy.

The difference between moi and a pisspot is that the pisspot drinks to get drunk. Moi drinks for his nation.

I would suggest all you pisspots do likewise.

Otherwise I have no comment.

Gulp gulp hic gulp buuuurrrrrpppp haaaaaaaaa.

Ah, funny, Jenny Hume

An oldie but a goodie....that would offend some, I have no doubt.

Would he be interested in this?


What can a good Pressie say

Well now, F Kendall, I am not sure what a good Pressie can say to all that. Am I shocked? Yes, but I guess I will get over it. Puritanism suspended for 24 hours - only. Take care tomorrow.

I must confess I never really saw what anyone saw in getting blotto. When any drunk turned up at the hospital they usually sicked up and being sick is not a pleasant sensation - never mind the nurse who might have to clean them, and it, up.

Nurses' tip. Breathe through your mouth if you don't want to add to the mess.

I am not sorry I tossed in nursing - five years of that was enough to put any nurse off. Only one thing was worse - the drunks who came in with the DTs. They had to be tied down on the bed and their language would shame a sailor.

I think parents who start their kids with the taste early in childhood are very irresponsible. It takes very little for a person who is predisposed to addiction to become addicted to alcohol, or any drug for that matter. For them there is no safe amount. Not drinking never cost me one day's fun in my life.

I agree

Joanna Egan, the guidelines are often absurd....I recall an earnest female medico on the ABC saying that, on very special occasions, a female might have as many as 2 glasses of wine.

...Or maybe it's the wine that is dangerous, and women should stick to spirits:  one recalls the tales of the Queen Mother, and how, reputedly, offered gin or vodka, would gaily accept both and ask for doubles of each. 

Why don't they teach people to eat/snack while drinking, which counteracts many of its bad effects?

Because they don't really care, is my opinion.

Responsibility yes, but not through higher fines

I have to agree with Joanna that the topic 'youth binge-drinking' is kind of blown up by the media. There was the same discussion some months ago in Germany, where I'm from. 

There it is really easy for teenagers to get alcohol, because the law is not as strict as in Australia and the fines for contravention aren't that high. Therefore, I think, Australia deals very strict with alcohol abuse. Everybody who sells alcohol has to have a RSA and everybody buying alcohol has to show an ID.

The conclusion of the public discussion in Germany was, that clubs weren't allowed to do 1-Euro-a-shot parties anymore. Anyway, this doesn't keep teenagers from drinking. Neither will higher fines or more laws. 

Alcohol is not only an accepted drug in our society, but a social drug and can therefore not being banned. I don't say that it is good to drink alcohol, but most people do and the majority of them are not alcoholics. 

The most effective way to avoid alcohol abuse is to teach young people a responsible handling with alcohol. Measures like doing the RSA already at high school would be a beginning. Whereas rising fines, in my opinion is not the most successful way! 

Confessions of an alcohol drinker

Sometimes, Bianka, alcohol makes people do things they wouldn't normally.  I'm about to confess to what alcohol drove me to on the weekend.

I don't knock off work till late.  I was backstage with the musos at our pub, some alcohol was consumed, and then it was decided we should go into town together.

I couldn't control what happened next.  It was all too fast, a drunken whirl.  Before I knew what I was doing, I was behind a karaoke mike, singing a Karen Carpenter song!

I'm on the top of the world, lookin' down on creation..

Sob.  How will I ever recover from my shame?

Nothing new but I 'fess up

As a working muso in my youth, I could not count the number of times I was so blotto that little memory remained.

And to confess to the worst, I often drove home in this state and was never caught. Today, I can only express my shame at the level of irresponsibility I displayed.

Thankfully I killed no one and finally grew up. 

Signs of the times

Julia might be interested in going to her nearest Jayjays and acquiring the T-Shirt that lbears the motto "It's only binge drinking if you stop."  I gaher they've been selling quite well.

You story, Roger, explains why tour managers love moving bands around town in vans.

Actually, from the "green room" end of things lifestyles have changed a lot too.

Just have another drink and try to forget....

Oh, my God! Richard, what a harrowing experience for you.

Mind you, it could have been worse. You could have been singing Dancing Queen

Restoring balance?

Or worse singing Drunk to me only, Kathy.

Yet in contrast here, there is one Scot who has been ordered off by the Doc till his balance restores. Three weeks without a single drop.

Hasn't stopped him working on a new version of the Tennessee Waltz though and today he was out there singing that great second world war ditty about Hitler's lopsided genitalia to the Colonel Bogie March:

Hitler, he only had one ball
Göring had two but very small
Himmler, had something similar,
But poor old Goebbels, had no balls at all.

That for the entertainment of me and female friend who came calling. She then informed us she had found the origin of that word. Read it in a book she said but could not remember which one.

She claims it said that under Henry VIII one was only allowed to do it for the purpose of procreation and the priests, till he ousted them, went around listening at doors.. So if one was wanting to make baby one would have to put a sign on the door.

Four letters signifying:

Fornicating Under Consent of the King.

Oh the company one keeps. Now if all that does not dumb down Webdiary, I do not know what will, and I never touched a drop.

See what you have all done to this good puritan. Sorry editors. Back to me old self tomorrow.

One's role in life - ever corrective

Jenny Hume, to set the record straight, Hitler had only one brass ball. Scan the line. Shakespeare would have understood.

Ian M (Ed): Scholars believe the line to be "Hitler, he only had one ball." It scans. A moment's consideration of your offering above puts Der Führer into the same league as Goballs, who had, as the anonymous but highly esteemed lyricist asserts, none at all.

Donne and Milton also.

For the record

For the record, Malcolm B Duncan, I don't do Shakespeare as you well know. He may have understood, but understanding him takes more grey cells than I am prepared to torture in any given day.

As for Hitler, well, some seem to be more acquainted with his nether parts than others.

Now this all got the Scot going - we were also treated yesterday to some choice tracts of Chaucer's - trust him to be able to go straight to them - but yes, the ladies were amused, quite amused.

See what he can do when he's ordered off it? When he's on it is another matter. Willie Shakes might not understand, but you definitely would.

As for the binge drinking kids - I doubt they remember their names when they get going. Those kiddy alcohol drinks should be banned altogether - they only serve to get them started. Alcopops - says it all. The word pops was not chosen lightly by the grog companies. They knew they were targeting kids, and society let them do it. Now we see the outcome.

Plan B - Gig Tax?

Dancing Queen?  You should hear my ukelele version, Kathy!

My initial thought on the alcopop tax was that i would be happy to support it (even though I consider it a media beat-up) if the funds were being directly channelled into youth events, ones involving alcohol even. 

I spend a lot of my life around crowds at gigs.  People don't go to them to get pissed - they go to watch a show.  They are consuming alcohol responsibly in a group of their peers. 

More environments that can be created in which alcohol is an ingredient but not a focal point  would be more effective than shock value ads, and with many associated ongoing benefits for our culture.

Disclosure for newcomers: the writer is the co-owner of a live music pub venue. 

A bit of a beat-up

I think the whole issue of youth binge-drinking and binge-drinking in general is a bit of a media beat-up. I have read the statistics, and I think they're inaccurate largely because the recommended dosage of alcohol per day is highly unrealistic.

Most of my friends drink, most only socially. However, I have never felt any pressure to drink, and I have plenty of friends who only drink occasionally, and some who don't drink at all. Although those of us who do drink occasionally 'drink too much', I would categorically say that not one of my friends is a 'problem drinker'. 

As for the 'alco-pop tax', I think it is ridiculous. I don't know anyone who drinks them anyway, and if they did, they would just buy whole bottles of spirits instead. Isn't that more dangerous? At least 'alco-pops' are measured and poured, and you know exactly how many standard drinks you're consuming. And since when are they called 'alco-pops' anyway? I've always known them as RTD's (Ready To Drinks), or pre-mixed drinks.

As for parents buying alcohol for minors, I was curious as to your terminology:  "fines of up to $6000 for recklessly supplying liquor to minors". What does 'recklessly' entail? Is it specifically targetted at parents? Or at adults in general?

In high school, a few of my friends' parents bought us alcohol for parties, their rationale being that they'd rather know what we were drinking, rather than have some seedy 'toolie' type buy it for us. They knew we would get the alcohol one way or another, and this way we wouldn't buy three bottles of vodka each. I can totally empathise with that viewpoint.

Participant observation of Aussie bingeing.

This is a topic to warm the cockles of any Aussie heart.  I drink little these days and have sworn of cannabis as well.  I yearn, sometimes but not often, for the tear-ass moment when one simply lets the brakes off completely.  You know, I guess I yearn for the old days when it was possible to to blat along in a decent low revving V8 across the western plains, late at night, say, heading for Coona with a view to dossing down in the Warrambungles with nothing but the stars overhead,  a bottle of Inner Circle Red Spot Rum to keep you warm and some of Doc Hennessy's home grown to keep the thoughts and conversation clear.

Yes indeed, bingeing, or less politely, getting dazzlingly fucked up on a range of alcohol and substances is a deeply entrenched Oz national attribute.

In Melbourne not so long ago with a dear friend and we stayed up late at a bar with a street overlook.  One about six feet above the footpath so we could watch the parade of slobbering drunk yoof reeling up and down the street.  The height advantage allowed us to observe in safety as they were mostly so totally out of it that they couldn't find the entrance door and God forbid actually being on street level with them.  Your average friendly out-of-it nitwit can turn into a raging psycho in a flash with Ice on board these days so some physical barrier is an advantage in this sort of participant observation.

Now, Ice is an ugly drug.  A few years ago, for reasons I won't go into, I was obliged to do hourly Glascow Coma Scale observations on a young bloke who the Police had manacled hand and foot to the bed.  This meant looking into his eyes in order to establish his state of consciousness.  That was an experience I could have done without.  Eyes like piss holes in the snow acting as windows to a state of consciousness hitherto unimagined by me. He had a cast put on his broken forearm while he was unconscious.  He regained consciousness to find that one of the coppers had written the date followed by "Arrested by Robbo" on the inside of his cast.  Imagine three months in remand and looking at that every day.

While in Melbourne it occurred to us that drinking is one thing but it really is quite something  else when apparently an entire nation routinely gets off its scone and this is accepted as normal behaviour.

I think that the vast number of slang terms for being wildly inebriated lets us know that bingeing among the young merely reflects what they have learned from their elders and betters: drink as a skunk and pissed as a parrot are my favourites. 

By the way did you know that parrots do get pissed?  While in Townsville I often had to move a flock of dead drunk parrots from the driveway before leaving in my car.  In summer they would drink the fermented rainwater from inside flower bells and then actually fall out of the tree and lie upside down with their little parroty feet in the air.  Too drunk to move.  Very endearing and indistinguishable from the human population in their attitude to the piss: don't stop 'till you've had enough.

Things are pretty wild in many ways - perhaps wilder than they used to be or ought to be.  I was chatting to a single station copper who works a back country town on the edges of the Hunter Valley.  I know the joint and asked "How are the hillbillies up there treating you?".  He nearly was sobbing as he explained that every second informant tells him that so and so is growing a crop on various ridges around the place but the informant invariably followed this up with a warning as to the dangerousness to his good self of investigation the health and whereabouts of said crop.  He was terrified.  He said he's installed another five movement sensor lights around his cottage and keeps extra cannisters of pepper spray about the place.

There was a time when the good and gentle descendants of Ned Kelly were content with their own moonshine.  And, yes I do mean Ned's family and she lives outside Bowraville. But these days they have augmented their capacity for home entertainment by growing crops of mind numbing weed and they like to try and maintain a kind of chemical balance between the one and the other.  Generally speaking they fail to maintain any sort of balance at all.

How about a new Tourism Australia campaign - "Get slaughtered and feel at home."  This place really is a Red Neck Wonderland and getting hammered is one way to feel at one with the bulk of the population. 

Which reminds me that the red neck's definition of a good friend is not the one who comes and bails you out all of the time but the one who sits in the cell with you saying "Boy, that was fun".

I guess the problem of bingeing is really one of restraint but isn't that why we have desk sergeants?


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