National Health and Medical Research guidelines around alcohol consumption are at risk of being ignored by young people because they don’t take their drinking cultures into account, a Deakin University researcher has warned.
The warning by Dr Lyn Harrison, from the University’s School of Education, was presented at a workshop on young people and alcohol on 4 December.
Dr Harrison’s research, which took place in Melbourne, Geelong and Warrnambool is part of a wider research project into the cultural drivers of young people’s drinking, funded by Drinkwise Australia.
Dr Harrison said the drinking guidelines released in 2007 had been based on the premise of harm minimisation. “The ‘universal’ recommendation for low risk drinking is two standard drinks in any one day,” she said.
“The rationale for these guidelines is that once people get the information they will act on it and change their behaviour, yet the data from the young people in our study, shows that this is not necessarily the case,” Dr Harrison said.
Dr Harrison said that the guidelines were being resisted by many in the study, and risky drinking behaviours were rationalised by young people in all sorts of ways.
For young people alcohol consumption is most often related to socialising, fun and pleasure and their identity is focussed on individual choice and their management of the risks. “This culture is at odds with the authoritarian, top down approach to things – like the NHMRC guidelines. “You also have to ask how many people, not just young people, go out and have only two standard drinks.”
Dr Harrison said the young people resented the intrusion into their lives and their response was ‘don’t tell me what to do, it’s my life, it’s in my hands, let me do it and suffer the consequences.’
Dr Harrison said the young people interviewed also had difficulty seeing the long-term consequences of their actions either on their health or future lives.
“It’s very difficult for kids to do that. It is even difficult for adults,” she said. “Young people don’t think about being old, even middle aged people think it will be a while before they are old and decrepit.
“This view is captured by one respondent who stated ‘I’m only going to live this life once so hopefully the damage that I’m creating now isn’t going to hit me until I’m 70 so by then I’ll have my super to pay for my hospital bills to get a new liver or something.” “Young people never quite believe they will grow old particularly in a consumer culture in which pleasure and gratification are to be experienced now and delayed gratification is an anathema.”
Dr Harrison said there was also a problem with the panic around young people and alcohol.
“Young people are often portrayed in negative ways in relation to alcohol yet there are many young people who are careful and believe that they behave responsibly even if their view of what is responsible is different to definitions in the NHMRC guidelines. For example, they won’t drink and drive or will abstain from drinking during the week or before important exams.
“Despite this they are all labelled in the same way, as being in danger and a risk to others, and the warnings fall on deaf ears especially if you think you drink responsibly.”
(Source: Deakin University: December 2008)