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Alcohol education: a community perspective

By David Ballhousen - posted Thursday, 13 September 2012

As a community we seem to understand the seriousness of the issue we face from our misuse of alcohol. Yet we are a long way from comprehensively addressing this issue with the intent it deserves.

So often the debate is focused on our young people. Amongst the policy options advocated, there are calls for more education to address the high risk behaviours demonstrated so publically by young people.

As an organisation which has been educating children and young people to make safe and healthy choices for over 30 years, we certainly understand and champion the valuable role education plays in empowering young people to make informed decisions about their use of alcohol.


Effective school alcohol education involves considerably more than the sharing of information about alcohol and its effects. To reduce the prospect of alcohol related harm our young people need opportunities to develop skills and strategies to assess risk, to recognize influence, to resist pressures, to problem solve, to communicate assertively, and to manage challenging situations. Our approach to alcohol education incorporates a strong focus on the development of these skills. Importantly we also recognise that peers are an important factor determining a young person's use of alcohol. This is why we specifically address, and correct where necessary, student beliefs about the attitudes and behaviours of their peers towards alcohol and its consumption.

We get excellent feedback from teachers and students about the effectiveness of this work. However we recognise that it is delivered in the face of quite powerful contrary forces. The position alcohol assumes in our society, and the extent to which the consequences of its misuse are reinforced as 'cool', places in jeopardy the benefits otherwise expected to flow from effective preventive education.

To maximise its effectiveness - for young people to be more capable of making informed decisions about their use of alcohol - we need to change the behaviour of those they are observing during their formative years, and potentially imitating later on. We understand that risky behaviours, such as the misuse of alcohol, are learned by children and young people by observing the behaviours of the people around them, and more importantly, observing the consequences of these behaviours. If we as a community excuse, or even reward these risky behaviours, we increase the likelihood that they will be imitated by young people.

This shifts the focus of the debate onto those that surround our children and young people - parents and carers, older siblings, friends of the family, participants in local community events, etc. We are keen to be connecting with these adults and raising awareness of the critical role they play in modelling the sort of behaviours we are promoting to the children and young people in their lives.

One of our major initiatives each year is Ocsober - a campaign which challenges adults to give up alcohol for a month and raise money to support Life Education's school education program. Throughout the month of October we shine a spotlight on our nation's attitudes towards alcohol. It is important to become more aware of just how the misuse of alcohol leads to short-term and long-term negative health and social problems and that as Australians we may sometimes overlook just how our attitudes towards alcohol are tied in to how it is consumed and sometimes misused. For many of us, the centrality of alcohol in activities such as socialising, relaxing, entertainment and sport is not noticed much less questioned, which can lead to the normalisation of alcohol consumption in many daily or regular cultural activities. Participants in Ocsober have the opportunity to reflect on their use of alcohol and the extent to which it is safe and healthy, in terms of its impact on them personally as well as those around them. Registrations for Ocsober 2012 are now open and you can get more information here.

It goes without saying that society should invest in alcohol education programs for our children and young people. However, and to avoid being hypocritical, together, lets also focus on changing the behaviour of those role models in our communities that our children are learning from.


We need to be the positive role models that we want our children and young people to imitate and become.


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Following are statistics from Life Education.

  • Alcohol related harm is responsible for 3200 deaths annually (National Alcohol Strategy 2006 -2011)
  • 81,000 people are hospitalised annually due to excessive alcohol consumption (National Alcohol Strategy 2006 - 2011)
  • Alcohol related social problems cost the Australian community around $15.3 billion (National Alcohol Strategy 2006 -2011)
  • More than 20% of 14 - 19 year olds consume alcohol on a weekly basis (2007 National Drug Strategy Household Survey)
  • Teenagers who start drinking before age 15 are five times more likely to become dependent on alcohol than those who don't start until they are 21 (Drug Info Clearing House)

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About the Author

David Ballhausen is CEO of Life Education.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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