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Too many Murray Bridge teens drink alcohol – here’s how we can change that
The first Planet Youth survey in Murray Bridge in three years has found parents may be too permissive about teenagers drinking alcohol.
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A permissive culture among parents may be contributing to drinking problems among Murray Bridge’s teenagers, new research suggests.
A recent survey of year 10 students by the city’s Local Drug Action Team found more were drinking alcohol, and getting drunk, than two years ago.
Particularly concerning was a trend towards teenagers drinking either at home – which 42% of teenagers said they did often or sometimes – or at their friends’ houses.
“There appears to be a permissive culture around alcohol use among kids of this age,” public health expert Alfgeir Kristjansson told participants in an online forum last month.
“Clearly, in this area (Murray Bridge), the kids don’t have issues with drinking at home, either by their parents or care-givers looking away or by their being okay with it.”
The findings came amid a “considerable” increase in substance use by local young people since the last Planet Youth survey in 2019.
Forty-three per cent of 15-year-olds said they had been drunk before, 35% said they had first tried alcohol at the age of 13 or younger, and 22% said they had used cannabis – more than in any other participating council area around Australia.
At the same time, half of the teenagers said their mental health had worsened in the past two years.
COVID-19 can likely be blamed for that, with the effects it has had on schooling, sport and entertainment options.
The risk of substance abuse was higher among teenagers who said their friends used drugs or alcohol – “birds of a feather flock together” – as well as those who were bored at school or stayed out late at night.
One pleasantly surprising number came out of the survey, though.
More than 70% of young people said they would like to continue living in the Murraylands in future, up from just 43% in 2019.
The data also highlighted factors which reduced the risk of drug and alcohol abuse, including:
Close relationships with parents or caregivers
Disapproval of drugs and alcohol among friends or by parents
Attachment to community
Cooperation among neighbours
Headspace manager Suzanne Fuzzard said community factors could not be underestimated.
“Lack of connectedness and loneliness are key factors in a deterioration in mental health,” she said.
“This is particularly noticeable for young people, for whom their peer connections are increasingly important in their lives and development.”
Those present at the forum resolved to do more to support families as they re-engaged with community activities in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Planet Youth project was pioneered in Iceland, where it helped reduce rates of teenage drunkenness from 42% to 5% over a period of 20 years.
Murray Bridge is one of seven communities around Australia where it is being trialled, alongside Salisbury, Port Pirie and the Limestone Coast.
Evidence from around the world showed that a long-term investment in community-led prevention would produce results, Alcohol and Drug Foundation CEO Erin Lalor said.
“Our aim ... is to prevent alcohol and other drug harms from occurring by working with communities to boost known preventative factors, such as increasing young people and parent interaction and access to out-of-school activities,” she said.
That would mean persevering for a while, she said, especially after the past couple of years.
“Achieving a solid change cycle can take several years of sustained effort,” she said.
“What is important is continuing to track trends and to use those trends to guide community action, which is exactly what the Murray Bridge Safe Local Drug Action Team is doing.”
Alcohol-related harm costs Australia $14 billion every year, according to the ADF.
The harm caused by other drugs costs another $8.2 billion.
The Planet Youth trial was funded by state government body Wellbeing SA, and the Local Drug Action Team by the federal government.