BRAIN DAMAGE HITS BOOZY TEENS
By ANDY PARKS
WHEN it comes to youth binge drinking, Deb Pearce has seen it all.
Deb co-ordinates a youth activities program in Mullumbimby called Youth Linx as well as running Street Cruise in Byron Bay. She and her team patrol the streets of Byron CBD every Friday night.
"Basically we're there keeping an eye out for young people in the streets. It's about harm reduction, calling the police or ambulance if it's required, telling people to go home if they are seriously intoxicated and at risk, particularly young girls," she said.
Deb's experience tells a story that health professionals are warning is becoming increasingly common amongst young people around here.
Binge drinking is at record levels. Half the people between the ages of 18-24 are now considered at risk of brain damage because of their drinking habits.
A NSW survey shows that 41 per cent of young people participate in 'risky drinking', with the figure rising to an alarming 61.2 per cent on the North Coast.
According to Reyna Dight, the co-ordinator of alcohol projects with the North Coast Area Health Service, binge drinking patterns are causing other serious health problems not usually seen in young people, such as cirrhosis of the liver. She also says young women are drinking like their male counterparts.
"We've been so focused on illicit drugs in recent years that alcohol has slipped off the radar a bit, but statistically alcohol is the drug most likely to harm young peoples" she said.
Their figures showed the proportion of people aged 25 they see with alcohol-related brain damage had jumped from 4 per cent in 1997 to 20 per cent in 2007.
Reyna Dight urges parents to try to stop their teenage kids drinking at parties and on weekends.
"It sets a pattern in later years. The earlier they start, the more likely they are to have problems with alcohol," she said.
Deb Pearse says that it's not just young people who are involved in binge drinking, but that they are more visible because they are often out in the streets.
"If you're under 18 and want to go out, there's nowhere to go so they just go out on the streets where they're much more visible," she said.
She believes that young people need somewhere to go and hang out a night in a%supervised environment.