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Society at a loss to explain binge drinking problems

Society at a loss to explain binge drinking problems, UC expert says

November 14, 2012

Government, regulators, parents and welfare agencies in New Zealand are at a loss to explain, let alone control or discourage teen and young adult binge drinking problems, a University of Canterbury (UC) lecturer said today.

A health report released at a conference in Auckland yesterday showed that secondary schoolgirls were bigger binge drinkers than schoolboys.

The report said the percentage of females aged 16 and 17 binge-drinking on a typical night out tripled from nine to 28 per cent between 1995 and 2011. For males the same age, the percentage increased from 19 to 25 per cent.

Binge-drinking has dropped among 18 and 19-year-old males from 30 to 29 per cent. However, for the same age group of females, the proportion of binge-drinkers increased from four to 16 per cent.

UC Associate Professor Patrick McAllister said even though people of all ages were aware of the health and social problems associated with binge drinking, it continues.

``Why is this? I believe that it has to do with a number of factors that can be described as cultural values and practices that have become habitual and part of the way in which young people are expected or even encouraged to behave.

``One cannot separate binge drinking from the wider practice of drinking alcohol in New Zealand, which is generally socially approved and which is part of the culture of New Zealanders generally.

``Have a look at the frequency with which alcohol consumption crops up on TV, for example. Look around at what is the expected presence of alcohol at important events, from prestigious horse races, to weddings, birthday parties, barbecues, dinner parties, after-work get-togethers and celebrations of all kinds like Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

``Have a look at the ubiquitous presence of liquor stores and the generous opening hours that they are allowed. Does that not tell you something about the importance of alcohol in our society?’’

There was no disputing that alcohol had a strong presence in many aspects of NZ society and that it was highly valued as a product. So what did this have to do with teenage binge drinking?

Young people were in the process of being socialised into the habits and customs of their society, and a large part of this process was by imitation. The better they could imitate the qualities that were required the more young people could demonstrate they fitted in. Overindulgence was to be expected, he said.

``In a previous situation that I was involved in overseas, young male students at my university, especially in the commerce faculty, formed drinking clubs. Every Friday they would don suits and ties and meet at a local restaurant or bar, where they proceeded to literally drink each other under that table.

``Why? Because they knew that they were destined for a career in the world of finance and business. And they knew that in this world, many deals were struck around the lunch table, after business lunches that lasted many hours and where it was important to remain on ones toes despite the many glasses of wine consumed.

``They were practising, in their drinking clubs, for their future, imitating what they saw as the realities of the business world. They were not wrong. At the time a stockbroker friend of mind confided the amount that he and his business partner spent on business lunches each month - it was higher than my monthly salary,’’ Associate Professor McAllister said.


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