Kiama drinking campaign corrects misconceptions

University of Wollongong professor and Centre for Health Initiatives director Sandra Jones with the highly visible new campaign signs. Picture GEORGIA MATTS

University of Wollongong professor and Centre for Health Initiatives director Sandra Jones with the highly visible new campaign signs. Picture GEORGIA MATTS

KIAMA residents are again being urged to “stand their ground” when it comes to feeling comfortable with their own decisions surrounding not drinking or providing alcohol to young people.

The Kiama Stop Underage Drinking Project has updated their campaign with new posters, while utilising their website and social media to help bridge the gap between perception and reality with regard to views on underage drinking.

For three months, University of Wollongong professor and Centre for Health Initiatives director Sandra Jones examined underage drinking.

The Gerringong resident launched the campaign last October.

More than 1000 people from throughout the Kiama area took part in Professor Jones’s investigation into attitudes on underage drinking. 

Professor Jones said she had been impressed by the extent to which the Kiama community had engaged with the “intervention”.

She said the campaign focuses on correcting misconceptions that most young people are drinking alcohol and getting drunk regularly. “It’s more than an education campaign,” she said.

“We’re not just telling people something, that alcohol is bad. 

“What we’re trying to do is increase people’s awareness of what their attitude is as a community towards underage drinking.

“What we need to do as a community is support each other to make safe choices. 

“We want to change this perception that young people think this is just expected, and create a more supportive culture, where it’s okay to say you don’t want to drink, and their parents say they don’t want their kids to drink. 

“We wanted to get the conversation going… We’re really hoping for people in the community to take this up themselves.

“We have just accepted this conversation, (that) ‘Aussies drink; it’s part of our culture’. 

“We’re in an important part of our history to change that.”

Professor Jones said data collected from the Australian Secondary Schools Alcohol and Drug Surveys indicated underage drinking has declined during the past three decades; from 30 per cent of 12-15 year-olds in 1984 to 11 per cent in 2011 and 50 per cent of 16-17 year olds in 1984 to 33 per cent in 2011.

Professor Jones said that only 12 per cent of 14-year-olds and 29 per cent of 16-year-olds are regular drinkers. 

Findings from the recently released National Drug Strategy Household Survey indicated that the age at which 14-24 year olds are having their first drink is being delayed, rising from 14.4 years to 15.7 years of age during the past decade-and-a-half.

CEO John Rogerson said more young people waiting longer, and more abstaining from alcohol was great news.

“We know that the younger a person drinks alcohol, the more likely they are to binge drink and have a problem with alcohol later in life,” Mr Rogerson said. 

“That’s why we recommend that no one under the age of 18 consume alcohol.

“These results, while they are encouraging, shouldn’t be viewed or portrayed as ‘job done’. “Australia is still very much in the grip of a dangerous love affair with booze.”

Professor Jones said she often encountered parents who were unaware of, or questioned the veracity of these statistics. 

“Teens still think that most of their friends are drinking and that they have to drink to fit in,” she said.

“The real problem is that this perception is clouding our sense of reality and it becomes a vicious cycle of influence and behaviours.

“We know from our past research that young people and even adults are more influenced by what they think others think – even more than peer pressure when it comes to drinking alcohol.”

Professor Jones said the program would continue its efforts, including conducting community forums later in the year.  

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