Targeting youth drinking: An Australian case study
Katherine G. Elliston, University of Tasmania
This case study outlines binge drinking among school leavers and how the government is attempting to minimise alcohol-related harm among this population.
In Australia, the legal age to purchase and consume alcohol is 18 years and above. Young adults aged between 18 and 24 are the most likely age group to engage in binge drinking (Australian Bureau of Statistics: ABS, 2018). In 2017-2018, over half of individuals in this age group reported to have engaged in risky drinking (ABS, 2018). Risky drinking or binge drinking is defined as the consumption of more than four standard drinks on one occasion (National Health and Medical Research Council, 2009) and is associated with an increased risk in alcohol-related harm.
Although recent statistics have shown that the rates of youth binge drinking are decreasing, the proportion of men drinking more than four standard drinks on one occasion sits at approximately 54% (compared to approximately 30% for women: ABS, 2018). In November each year, school leavers or ‘schoolies’, participate in an end-of-year two-week celebration, typically in Queensland, Australia (Lubman et al., 2014). Approximately 40,000 youths attend schoolies celebrations where they are at an increased risk of binge drinking and subsequent risk-taking behaviour (Lubman et al., 2014). During schoolies celebrations, three-quarters of youths get drunk, almost one-fifth engage in unprotected sex, 15% are involved in a fight, and approximately 5% inject drugs (ABC News, 2013).
To combat schoolies binge drinking culture in Australia, the Australian Government require youths to register for schoolies week and wear official wristbands to indicate they are genuine school leavers. The wrist bands allow youths to access government run safer schoolies initiatives such as DJ events, support from volunteer organisations, access to a free emergency treatment centre and a 24-hr help line for schoolies and their parents (Queensland Government, 2019).
Despite the efforts to promote safety surrounding schoolies celebrations, the experience of harm during schoolies week has not decreased over time (Lubman et al., 2014), suggesting more preventive strategies are needed to safeguard schoolies week and change youths’ attitudes and expectations surrounding the celebrations.
ABC News (2013). Schoolies statistics: Sex, drugs and binge drinking. Retrieved from https://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-11-15/schoolies-statistics-alarming-rates-of-binge-drinking/5094910
Australian Bureau of Statistics (2018). National Health Survey: First Results, 2017-18. Retrieved from https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/4364.0.55.001~2017-18~Main%20Features~Alcohol%20consumption~100
Lubman, D., Droste, N., Pennay, A., Hyder, S. & Miller, P. (2014). High rates of alcohol consumption and related hard at schoolies week: A portal study. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 38(6): 536-541. doi: 10.1111/1753-6405.12266
National Health and Medical Research Council (2009). Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol. Canberra (AUST): Commonwealth of Australia. Retrieved from https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/about-us/publications/australian-guidelines-reduce-health-risks-drinking-alcohol
Queensland Government (2019). Safer schoolies. Retrieved from https://www.saferschoolies.qld.gov.au/
1. What is the age group most at risk of binge drinking in Australia?
- 18- to 24-year olds
2. Is binge drinking increasing or decreasing among Australian youths?
- Decreasing, but at different rates for men and women
3. Do you think the government initiative surrounding schoolies events are effective? Why/why not?
- Yes, in that they aim to reduce harm through promoting free health/emergency needs care
- No in that the experience of harm has not decreased during schoolies celebrations despite the efforts to promote a safe environment