Young schoolies caught up in deadly booze culture
SCHOOL uniforms ripped off, unconscious bodies on pavements, bloodied faces and social media posts of drunken teens.
This year, as usual, schoolies have not done their reputation any favours.
There are school leavers who celebrate quietly - they aren't the ones we see on our TV screens, news websites or in newspapers.
It is easy to see why young people are often regarded as binge drinkers intent on killing themselves or each other.
The Australian National Council on Drugs has released an action plan to address what it calls "the continuing and at times escalating problems caused by alcohol in communities around the country".
Its figures highlight problem drinking and its effects across all age groups, but it says consumption among young people is of particular concern.
The advisory body found 61% of 18-29-year-olds reported they drank specifically to get drunk, and 22% of hospitalisations and 13% of deaths of young people were attributed to alcohol.
Perhaps most tellingly, the relatively small 15 to 24-year-old age group made up 52% of alcohol-related road injuries and 32% of alcohol-related hospital admissions for injuries from violence.
Mooloolaba Police Beatofficer-in-charge Sergeant Steve McDonald said binge drinking was a huge issue for young people and more often it happened in the home rather than in public.
"Ten years ago in Mooloolaba, it was almost anything goes in the pubs, but alcohol harm-minimisation measures like the CALM (Collaborative Approach to Liquor Management) Sunshine Coast liquor accord has made things better, but not perfect," he said.
Sgt McDonald said these stricter controls on public intoxication - plus significantly higher drink prices in bars and clubs than in bottle shops - had led to all drinkers, especially youngsters, consuming more alcohol at home.
"In my experience from my job and as a father, if they're going to drink, young people will do so to get drunk," he said.
"They'll 'pre-load' by drinking at home and eating is not a consideration - eating is cheating as they say - and if they don't eat it costs less to get drunk.
"I'd love to see a solution. I don't think the kids have any idea what they're doing to themselves when they're drunk."
Life Education Queensland chief executive Michael Fawsitt said alcohol was intrinsically linked to Australian social events and celebrations.
"Young people are caught in a wider alcohol culture," he said.
"If you look at the media or in social media, it can be seen as the norm to binge drink.
"I believe the majority of young people don't binge drink, but we're battling the culture and the role modelling of adults in particular."
There are initiatives to offer alternatives to binge drinking, some of them instigated by young people themselves.
Sunshine Coast Youth Partnership project officer Amy Doran said she mixed with young people eager to get away from the drinking culture.
"Our organisation is about showcasing young people in a positive way and we're seeing a greater demand for the alcohol- and drug-free events we organise," she said.
"Our biggest challenges are Schoolies and Australia Day, which is basically the national day for getting drunk.
"Our Raw Sounds events are designed to provide locals with a positive and fun alternative to drinking."
Barry McCarthy, from the Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service, said he had not seen a palpable increase in young people presenting with injuries or alcohol poisoning over the years.
"Of course we see spikes during Schoolies, Christmas, public holidays and sporting events, but it's an increase in alcohol and drug abuse for young and old," he said.
"Young people do have an invincibility theory, however."
Some key findings of the Australian National Council on Drugs' (ANCD) Alcohol Action Plan:
- 60% of all police call-outs, including 90% of late-night calls, involve alcohol.
- 20% of Australians drink at levels that put them at risk of lifetime harm from injury or disease.
- 36% of drinkers say their primary purpose when drinking is "to get drunk".
- 25% of Australians report having been a victim of alcohol-related verbal abuse.
- 21% of Australians under the age of 18 report having been harmed by another's drinking.
- 8% of Australians report having been a victim of alcohol-related physical abuse.