Australia seems to be in the grip of a teen binge drinking Ebola. The contagion slips insidiously from family to family, school to school, suburb to suburb. You can’t see it or smell it but it burrows in to teenage psyches and then roars into life. The public health doctors have no cure. They’ve thrown everything at it, and it just keeps on keeping on. It seems only now, that we realise the damage alcohol can do to the developing brain – that the politicians are starting to realise that not only do they have no cure, but they probably were at least part the cause. It seems as though, with the exception of alcopop tax, most of the prescriptions for the solution trotted out so far, turned out to have fake code in it and the virus has kept spreading.
A few weeks ago, the extent of the plague was revealed in a study by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute which revealed that a generation of young Australians were drinking themselves in to oblivion, with more than a quarter of 15 year olds binging until they black out, the point at which brain damage is likely to occur. They also found that more than a third of 11 year old boys had already consumed alcohol.
Social scientists have blamed anaemic regulation of alcohol advertising, the fact that young people are growing up in disconnected communities amidst unprecedented social change, global economic turmoil, high levels of family breakdown, stratospheric levels of discretionary income, and the ‘tamagotchi’ parenting practices – zero supervision, no limits or boundaries, an epidemic culture of ‘I-just-want-to-be-her-friend’ indulgence.
Almost 40% of under-age drinkers get their supply of alcohol from their parents, and only 5% buy it themselves and over the weekend, the Australian Drug Foundation have suggested what could be part of multi-pronged vaccine for this teen binge drinking pandemic.
Both Queensland and New South Wales already have “secondary supply” legislation which makes it illegal to sell or supply alcohol to people under the age of 18 years. Queensland are even considering a proposal to fine parents up to $6000 for allowing their kids to drink too much at home.
Currently in Victoria it is not illegal for adults to provide alcohol to minors in a private residence, even if the minors are not their own children. Given that secondary supply is the main way teenagers obtain their alcohol, most adolescent psychologists would see this as a sensible first step to address this problem at one of its root causes.
A loophole in the current Victorian laws allows adults other than a child’s parents to provide them with alcohol without the parent’s consent, if in a private residence. Regulating secondary supply aims to prevent this happening by providing a deterrent for adults to supply alcohol, and to support families affected by providing a legal course of action for them to pursue if appropriate.
Perhaps the successful implementation of this proposal might reduce the size of the problem for the newly proposed youth taskforce – involving police and workers with young people in health, education and welfare. This is a welcome initiative which would aim to encourage diversion rather than just locking up young offenders, many of whom commit their crimes under the influence of alcohol. Victorians are increasingly frightened, angry, frustrated and confused about the cocktail of youth drinking, violence and crime. They want to see strong leadership in dealing with this problem, which is simply getting worse.