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According to National Alcohol Indicators, an estimated 501 under-aged drinkers (aged 14–17yrs) died from alcohol-attributable injury and disease caused by risky/high risk drinking in Australia. Consumption of alcohol by teenagers is also associated with a wide range of adverse health issues, particularly injury. Research also suggests that teenage drinking is a solid predictor of problematic alcohol use later in life. Medical evidence has found that drinking alcohol can stunt the growth of a still-developing brain, leading to learning problems and other mental disorders. It is also assumed that teenagers who drink are more likely to get lower grades in school, experience motor vehicle accidents, and become involved in cases of assault and engage in other risky behaviours including unprotected sex (which can lead to unwanted pregnancies and STD infections). They are also more likely to become victims of a crime, such as rape, theft or assault. Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) courses aim to educate those working in the alcohol service industry by bringing these issues into focus.
Youth can be a period characterised by rapid changes, where young people evolve from being dependent children to independent adults. This transition period has been made even more complex by the social, economic and technological changes that have occurred in Australia over recent decades. In this stage of life, teenagers may be especially vulnerable to the influences of peer pressure and may be inclined to experiment, push boundaries and take risks that could impact on both the immediate and longer term health and wellbeing. Patterns and levels of some risky behaviours differ between young men and young women, with risks often being higher among young men. RSA courses help identify underage youth with is important for an establishment and its staff, but also the youth.
Young people are likely to have a positive perception of the social benefits of alcohol – believing it will help them fit in or loosen up. RSA courses highlight that not drinking is, and should be the norm for young people. While two-thirds of 12-15 year olds have never had a drink of alcohol, the volume of alcohol consumed in binge drinking sessions seems to be on the rise. A survey conducted late last year revealed that more than 40% of respondents had consumed 20 or more standard drinks in the one session in the past year. The research also showed that this level of binge drinking has almost doubled in the past eight years.
The best possible way to build a positive and firm foundation with respect to youth and exposure to alcohol is communication and education. In many communities, cultural barriers and differences can discourage parents or educational providers from having open and honest discussions on the topic of alcohol. If at all, youth are not readily encouraged to hold public discussions on the topic either. Most Australian parents do think that they should start a conversation with their kids on alcohol before they reach 12 years of age, but talking to kids about alcohol and setting the boundaries and expectations to keep them safe can be a very difficult task. RSA courses are another great tool in prevention that allows industry staff to directly deter underage drinking. Course participants are educated and become skilled on strategies to identify underage drinkers and also maintain a duty of care to ensure patrons are of legal drinking age prior to service. Although somewhat cliché, monitoring your alcohol consumption and being a positive role model for youth is also a great preventive measure everyone can take. By using alcohol responsibly, and setting rules and boundaries to follow, safer environments and better attitudes concerning alcohol consumption are created.
Prevention is more achievable than a cure and a great deal cheaper for society also. Steering young vulnerable people away from life’s more dangerous dead-ends is not only good for the teenagers, but also their friends, family, and whole communities as well. It is important to also remember that the responsibility to prevent underage drinking doesn’t fall squarely onto the shoulders of one particular group of people, like parents or teachers. It is everyone’s responsibility to keep the lines of communication open. Requirements like RSA courses serve to illustrate that the community can play a critical role in helping to prevent problems and stop underage drinking before it even begins.