Thursday, August 30, 2012

18 or 20---will it make any difference to our drinking culture?

I say NO! Whether the age to be able to drink alcohol is 18 or 20 will not make one bit of difference, because by the time many young people reach 18 they may well have been drinking for many years. It is not uncommon for kids as young as 14 to be seen drunk on a regular basis. Young people can arrive at school intoxicated and then the teacher shave to cope and keep them safe until a responsible adult is able to take over.
Therein lays the problem. Why would young people act in a responsible manner when they have seen their parents or caregivers abusing alcohol from a very early age? It is not just the messages they see in the media, but in their everyday life.  By the time many young people reach their teenage years, they have been exposed to negative role models around alcohol for a good deal of their lives. They may even have been a victim of their parents’ alcohol-fuelled behaviours, so why are we surprised when the same young people seek escape through excessive drinking?
Most of us would accept the premise that partaking in excessive (and some say, any) alcohol consumption is going to damage young people, both physically and psychologically. We know that young brains are not fully functional until into the early 20’s so the damage done from heavy drinking is indisputable.
In any weekend thousands of teenagers drink to the point where they are barley functional. The resulting damage is cumulative and contributes to health issues on later life. The social consequences are equally serious and learning is seriously hampered. Compounding affects almost guarantees that the young people will never reach their full potential.
How have we arrived at this sorry state? NZ has had a chequered relationship with alcohol, right from the early settlement by Europeans. Was not Russell in the North known as the ‘Hell hole of the Pacific?’ Alcohol has been a mainstream in NZ life for many years. It was even used to swindle Maori out of their land by some. We have an unfortunate history around alcohol and even the brief period of ‘prohibition’ (which I am not advocating) saw abuses and serious problems.
What can we do then about our alcohol problem?  No Government is ever going to try to ban it but we must find a way to be safer so that less young people start on the road to being ‘like their parents.’
Education is the answer some say. No-----not alone. Good modelling is just as important. Alongside that we must consider the role that images through advertising and media play in trapping young people into drinking at an early age. However the first issue we must face collectively is that we acknowledge the fact that we have a problem. It will mean changing much about the ‘culture’ we all live in. The discussion will go on and once we agree on a road ahead, then we may get somewhere.  The road is indeed bumpy!
18 or 20----its makes no difference.