Young people drinking on couch

Schools call for help on alcohol

The saddest aspect of attempts to change Australia’s alcohol culture is our propensity to handball the problem to someone else. Many individuals get the blame for the drinking culture – teachers, police, parents. It ought to be clear by now that the whole village must be involved.

Last week the Australian National Council on Drugs (ANCD) reported the results of its survey on the impact of alcohol on secondary schooling. The function of the ANCD is to provide advice on alcohol and drug issues to the Prime Minister. On this occasion it surveyed over 200 secondary school principals across government, independent and Catholic school systems to understand how alcohol and drugs affect schooling, and how schools are responding to the challenges.

The principals reported that student use of alcohol outside of school time was the third most important student issue they had to deal with – only depression and cyber bullying were more significant. This demonstrates that alcohol remains a big problem for school students even when their overall rates of drinking are in decline.

Alcohol problems are evident when students attend school late and tired, due to drinking on weekends or on week nights. These students generally have a poor attitude to schooling, have a higher rate of absenteeism, and are more likely to be disruptive in class. Principals nominated alcopops (e.g. Cruisers) as the alcohol beverage that was most popular with students, ahead of straight spirits, beer and wine.

Significantly, principals stated that ‘schools cannot carry the load on this’. They believe the wider community has to take responsibility for behaviour that happens outside school. The principals considered school could provide information and a caring environment for students but this was not sufficient because students’ needs are complex and long term and a holistic community response is necessary.

The principals also said community norms are important – many parents not only tolerate their teenager’s drinking by providing them with alcohol, and some community organisations show a lax approach to underage drinking. For example, neighbourhood alcohol outlets provide a ready supply of alcohol, as do late trading venues, and excessive drinking is allowed in some community sports clubs.

The report recommended a number of future actions to assist schools:

  • Developing a whole of community response to the task of changing Australia’s culture of alcohol and other drug use
  • Improving parental attitudes toward adolescent drinking and reducing the domestic supply of alcohol to young people
  • Improving the schools’ access to alcohol and drug education and other interventions

What can parents do? Parents need to:

  • Model the sort of behaviour they want their children to adopt
  • Set clear expectations on alcohol
  • Have regular conversations with their children about alcohol
  • Choose sports clubs that promote health

Programs that can help include:

  • The Other Talk – The key web resource for families wanting to openly discuss alcohol, drugs, safe partying and teen drinking laws.
  • Good Sports – Australia’s largest preventive health program for the community sporting sector.
  • CAAN in Victoria and CDAT in NSW Support for anyone who wants to take community action on alcohol.

What are you doing to prevent alcohol and drug problems in your community? GrogWatch would like to hear your story.