The definition of binge drinking is sometimes subjective but when addressing the problem of alcohol consumption in regards to Australian youth, a binge drinker will be regarded as an individual who consumes alcohol to the point of intoxication and has consumed a reasonable amount of alcohol to effect daily activities and obligations (Schuckit, 1998). For the purpose of this essay, a youth will be classified as anyone falling between the age of 12 and 24. Alcohol use is currently responsible for 3700 deaths a year (Ray Morgan, 2002). Today, almost 52% of serious alcohol related road accidents are caused by youths (Chikritzhs et al., 2000). Clearly, the reason why alcohol is used by youths must be the first point of further understanding, to reduce alcohol misuse in future years. The issue of binge drinking has resulted in a major problem for Australian youths due mainly to the fact that alcohol has become a lot more socially accepted and more widely used because of the pressure applied to youths by their peers.
The statistics for youth binge drinking have been steadily increasing and becoming a lot more of an issue in Australian society. According to the Victorian Youth Drug and Alcohol Survey (2004), 73% of respondents reported that they drank alcohol at least once in the past 12 months with the intention of getting drunk. This was up 2% in comparison to 2002. (Victorian Youth Alcohol and Drug Survey, 2004). The use of alcohol has also increased among younger people, with 14 years becoming the mean age where drinking first starts (Roy Morgan Research, 2002).
It is important to ask why binge drinking is occurring predominantly among youths. Obviously the pressures of adolescence as well as the positive exposure of alcohol in media play a large role. Youths suggest that the drink to relax and fit in with the rest of the group (Roy Morgan Research, 2002). Although much research has gone into the area of youth binge drinking, the data suggests that the nation needs to do more to inhibit the increase in youth binge drinking.
An interesting observation seen in the Victorian Youth Alcohol and Drug Survey (2004), is a difference between urban and rural binge drinking. Youth from non-urban areas reported that 72% of them consumed alcohol in the last 12 months at a level which can be deemed binge drinking. In comparison, only 68% of youths from urban areas reported this statistic. These statistics become more alarming when we consider that 17% of non-urban young drinkers consumed 20 or more alcoholic beverages in a certain time period, compared to 13% living in metropolitan areas (Victorian Youth Alcohol and Drug Survey, 2004).
Although rural and urban data does not vary significantly, there is still a variation between the two, with rural youth alcohol consumption being higher. It is important that an understanding of why these statistics vary between rural and non-rural youths is made. Perhaps a variation is seen because of the availability of alcohol to youths and because youths may resort to drinking due to ‘less to do’ in rural areas when compared to metropolitan areas.
Males and females also show some differences when analyzing data from different sources. It has been shown that females binge drink more than males (22% compared to 17%) and surprisingly none of these females drink beer, with a majority of them preferring pre-mixed drinks. Alarmingly, only 40% of these females are aware that these drinks contain a higher alcohol content than beer (Roy Morgan Research, 2002). The Victorian Youth Alcohol and Drug Survey (2004), also found that in the last 12 month, 78% of males consumed alcohol to get drunk compared to 69% females. Females have reported to binge drink more than males and this may be due to the differences in the amount of alcohol the two genders ‘think’ is binge. Females are known, in general, to be able to handle less alcohol than men (Seivewright, 2000). If this is the case, perhaps females report themselves as binge drinkers when a male would only classify the same amount as a ‘few’ drinks.
As the data suggests, if this trend in youth binge drinking continues, these statistics are bound to increase as they have through the years. The reasons mentioned for these increased rates must be used to exercise effective and practical means of battling this problem. This data can be related to certain social determinants of health. In regards to socio-economic status, data mentioned earlier suggests that rural areas suffer from a higher prevalence of youth binge drinking than those from metropolitan areas. Reidpath (2004) discusses the implications of socio-economic status which involves wealth, education and social influence.
Obviously these factors play a part in why youths from rural areas are drinking more than those from metropolitan areas. Education in rural areas is known to be falling behind metropolitan levels. An example of this is the indigenous youth population falling behind in education compared to the rest of the nation. This setback is shown in statistics that report indigenous youths are one of the highest reported binge drinkers out of all Australian youths (Berends, 2004). In fact, it has been found that an indigenous youth is 2.3 times more likely to die from alcohol related causes when compared to a non-indigenous youth (Berend, 2004).
Marmot (1999), talks about stress and again this can be related back to the reasons why youths resort to binge drinking. The everyday stress of schooling as well the many other factors involved with adolescence usually accumulate and many youths see binge drinking as a way to ‘relax’. Marmot (1999) also suggests that addiction is usually caused by wider social settings and in this case, a lot of youth binge drinking can be related back to the society that we live in.
The problem of binge drinking within the Australian youth population has obviously become a major problem with many research projects to back this problem. An appropriate and effective approach must be initiated to try reduce binge drinking among youths. In order for this to happen, the reasons behind binge drinking must be understood and the social determinants of health which relate to this issue must be applied in a practical intervention to reduce the problems faced by youths and the reasons behind binge drinking.