If I was the mother of a teenager in today’s society I’d be seriously worried about their chances of making it to adulthood as a whole, healthy, fully functioning and mentally stable human being.
Since binge drinking became fashionable among the young, there are many who are unlikely to survive this rite of passage unscathed. Some, who could be expected to be parental role models, seem to take the attitude kids will be kids, they’ll grow out of it, let them have some fun, and so on. It’s always been the prerogative of the young, in recent decades at least, to run amok, frighten the wits out of their parents and generally have a wild old time. But things seem to have gone way beyond the level of a bit of harmless wild oat sowing.
What’s different about the binge drinking phenomenon is that when kids go out they make it their mission to get very very drunk. Alcohol is and has always been a social lubricant and I’ve never seen anything reprehensible about having a couple of drinks at the end of a hard day, or when relaxing with friends, or to celebrate a special occasion.
But this is beyond using alcohol in that context. Forget loosening up the inhibitions, these kids are drinking like they have suicidal intent. For a start, it’s not just a few beers or several glasses of wine, it’s hard liquor – often followed by shots, thrown down the throat to get the fastest possible buzz. Or, God help us, the latest craze, vodka eyeballing which allegedly produces drunkenness at breakneck speed, notwithstanding that it can cause blindness in the literal sense as well. If any parent thinks their child would be too sensible to attempt such craziness, have a look at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1278583/Young-people-drinking-neat-vodka-EYE-quick-buzz.html
What appalls me about this is not that kids are getting drunk. Drinking is unquestionably, for a large proportion of young people, a rite of passage. It’s peer pressure, the culture, fear of being seen as a wowser, desire to experiment with the previously forbidden, all kinds of things, but essentially getting regularly pissed is more or less obligatory for lots of kids from their early teens on. I did it myself, on a number of forgettable occasions.
What I don’t understand is why these kids go out with the deliberate intention of wasting themselves. What is it that compels them to utterly obliterate the rational world through booze? It’s as though their lives, sober, were so unbearable, so beyond endurance, that they are forced to choose escape through alcoholic stupour. This behaviour goes beyond escapism, it’s pathological and hugely dangerous.
The young of course cannot be singled out in terms of alcohol abuse. Plenty of adults get shit faced on a regular basis and live to regret it the next day. However, it’s the nature of the drinking that does differentiate this behavior of young people from that of adults. Most adults don’t indulge in binges, benders or what might be described as orgies of drinking unless they’re alcoholics and their disease renders them physically incapable of resisting the compulsion. And here I know whereof I speak, having had a relationship with an alcoholic at one stage of my life.
No-one knows the cause of alcoholism, but perhaps one contributing factor might be to regularly ingest huge amounts of alcohol at a young age. Whether that is a causal factor in alcoholism is hypothetical, but what isn’t is the proven link between binge drinking and brain damage. Medical evidence on this point is unequivocal – long term abuse of alcohol will cause brain injury. Kids indulging in binge drinking aren’t just having fun, they’re playing Russian Roulette.
While the impact of this insane behavior is all too obvious, through alcohol fuelled violence, drink driving, injury and illness, to the extent that police and medical professionals caught up in the spiral of destruction are saying the problem is at crisis levels, tolerance of intoxicated behavior in our society seems to be at an all time high. Other than those who, because it’s their job, have to deal face to face and body to body with the gruesome after-effects, not too many people with the power to make a difference seem unduly concerned.
Many of these people of course have a vested interest in denying the critical nature of the problem. On the Four Corners episode aired last week, the CEO of Australian Hotels Association NSW denied that alcohol is responsible for the escalation in late night violence, claiming that it was the mixing of drugs and alcohol that causes problems. He had the temerity to state, “it’s not the AHA’s problem … it’s society’s problem.” Since when was a powerful and influential industry body in this country not part of society?
Refutations of his ridiculous claim were quickly forthcoming. In an article in “The Conversation” published the following day, experts from two universities pointed to the well established evidence that alcohol is by far the drug most likely to provoke interpersonal violence and homicide offenders are twice as likely to have been drinking prior to the crime than taking drugs. See the report at http://theconversation.edu.au/fact-check-only-drugs-and-alcohol-together-cause-violence-12466
Alcohol manufacturers and those in the hotel and entertainment industries will always be opposed to limiting consumption regardless of its implications because it’s their bread and butter. The government pays lip service in terms of regulations in regard to alcohol advertising, but these are in reality ineffective. Industry self-regulation exists in relation to alcohol labeling, but the extent to which this is an oxymoron can be seen in the outcomes.
How many young people intent on getting off their faces take any notice of messages in small print on labels that say “drink responsibly”? Or, for that matter, seriously consider another oft-touted and equally impotent suggestion: “is your drinking harming yourself or others?” When compulsion subjugates the brain, anything resembling responsible behaviour has absolutely no chance. The concept of harm is only vaguely interpreted as something that happens to others, less fortunate.
In a way, it’s equivalent to the petrol sniffing epidemic that’s plagued Aboriginal youth in this country for years. How credible is it to think that if petrol companies put up billboards in Aboriginal communities saying “sniff responsibly”, this would help in any way? Substance abuse and responsibility, surely, amount to a contradiction in terms.
This problem isn’t going away. I doubt whether anyone in the forthcoming federal election will be campaigning on this platform, but they should be. It’s good to see however that the media have been getting the message out strongly this past week. On Monday 25th February, Four Corners devoted an episode to the issue, entitled “Punch Drunk” and the “The Conversation” ran a series of excellent articles on alcohol and the highly toxic drinking culture in Australia. Details at https://theconversation.edu.au/a-brief-history-of-alcohol-consumption-in-australia-10580.
One of the most trenchant comments came from a key judicial figure interviewed on “Four Corners”, who said “one day someone is going to sit down and weigh up the benefit in terms of taxes to government from the sale of alcohol against the detriment or the cost to government of servicing the consequences of violence”.
It’s self-evident that the government is unwilling to do more to reduce the amount of alcohol sold and limit opening hours because they are afraid to offend the powerful liquor industry.
Why won’t the government do something of course is a constant refrain when it comes to society’s ills. Government may well need to grow a backbone and confront the monopolistic forces that in their headlong frenzy to make money don’t give a damn about what damage they inflict, but it doesn’t just rest with them. It’s a problem that should directly concern every family with young people at risk or anyone in the community who cares that the people who will shape the future of this country are laying waste to their potential.