Young drinkers putting their lives at risk

WEST Ballina mum Vikki Harris has faith in teenagers.

And that's despite the fact a recent youth poll has revealed 80 per cent of them think it's normal to regularly drink alcohol.

The Dolly Magazine Youth Monitor Survey results show a 64 per cent rise in binge drinking from 1992 - something the mother-of-three says is not acceptable, and which the community needs to work together to reduce.

"We'll always have the parents and kids who say it's better do it at home than in the park, and then others who just don't care," Ms Harris said.

"But overall I have faith in the majority of teenagers to do the right thing, and the majority of parents to educate their kids.

"I think teenagers are a lot more tuned in with their bodies now, and know more about the consequences."

Ms Harris, whose children are involved in local sporting teams, said sport was a good way of distracting teenagers from the lure of binge drinking as it gave them something do other than drink alcohol or smoke a cigarette when they were bored.

"Even if kids don't have brains, they sometimes have sport," she said.

However, Coraki mum Lisa Olive said she was concerned many teenagers thought they had to get drunk in order to have fun or fit in.

She often worried about her own daughters bowing to peer pressure, getting into trouble or getting their drinks spiked.

Ms Olive's 14-year-old daughter Ashli doesn't drink or go to parties yet, but when her 18-year-old daughter was Ashli's age, she was part of the teenage binge-drinking scene.

"She was a sensible girl but, still, she got in with the wrong crowd" she said.

"It's a worry that most kids seem to think they have to get drunk to have fun and fit in.

"It's up to us as the adults to educate them about the consequences and show them they dont need to get drunk to be cool."

Local doctor Dan Ewald said anyone who boasted how much they could drink before falling over should be 'ashamed of themselves'.

The Northern Rivers General Practice Network GP said he was not surprised by the poll results, and that it was not good news for health.

He said regular consumption of alcohol from a young age could lead to major problems later in life, by setting up a bad lifestyle pattern.

"Drinking alcohol can have big impacts on all areas of life, including health, financial and social aspects," Dr Ewald said.

"If you start drinking from a young age, all those impacts are heightened because you've had a greater lifetime exposure to it.

"Anyone who brags about how much they can drink is really just showing how much brain damage has been done, and they should be ashamed of themselves."

Dr Ewald said it was up to the community as a whole to work against some of the myths getting around, including that getting drunk one or two days a week is okay.

The rise in acceptance of alcohol among young people coincides with the rise in so-called alcopops - bottled or canned fizzy drinks mixed with rum or vodka, which taste sweet and are targeted at teenagers.

"'Alcopop' tax is a very sound public health policy, to be applauded," Dr Ewald said.

He said that regular excessive consumption of alcohol could lead to health conditions such as a loss of memory and thinking capability, heart attacks, cancer and liver cirrhosis.

Women drinking more than four standard drinks and men drinking more than six, two days a week, with less for young people, would experience heightened 'metabolic markers' for three to five days after drinking, affecting blood pressure, metabolism, fats in the blood and stress hormones, which increase the risk of heart attack and cancer.

Alcohol also disinhibits people and can lead to risk-taking behaviour, possibly ending in teen pregnancy, car accidents and domestic violence.

One of the biggest concerns was potentially unhealthy lifestyle patterns drinking from a young age could set up for teenagers.

"If you get drunk on Friday night and don't feel too good on Saturday, you're not likely to play sport or be active, which you'd more likely do if you were feeling well," Dr Ewald said. "If you set up these bad habits from a young age, it is more likely to persist in your adult life."

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