By Paul Dillon, drug educator and author.
One young Australian aged between 14 and 17 years old dies every weekend due to alcohol. That figure astounds me each time I say it to a group of students but it truly is beginning to surprise me that we don’t see far more deaths than that due to the increasing use of spirits by the very young.
Recently I met a 16-year-old girl at a school who wanted to thank me for the talk I had given her class the previous year. Only a couple of weeks after I had visited her school she had gone to a party and consumed almost a bottle of vodka with a couple of friends. She remembers little of the night apart from waking up in the hospital early the next morning with a drip in her arm and her parents sitting next to her, both of them in tears. Apparently she had lost consciousness and her friends had used some of the information I had given them in my talk to establish that she needed urgent medical assistance.
“It doesn’t matter where I go, it is usually spirits, particularly vodka, that causes the major problems.”
She was an amazing young woman. She had been through an unbelievably terrifying experience but now totally ‘owned’ it and had made some decisions about how she now hoped to deal with alcohol and parties in the future.
It doesn’t matter where I go, it is usually spirits, particularly vodka, that causes the major problems. Almost every death I have been involved with in schools has been vodka-related. So why are these drinks more risky?
First of all, spirits are much cheaper than they once were and this makes them much more accessible to young people. It is also important to remember that it takes much less vodka, rum or whisky to get drunk than for beer or wine. It would only take minutes to drink two shots of vodka (60mls), for most people it would take much longer to drink the equivalent amount of alcohol in beer (two 285ml glasses – 570mls).
If a group of young people share a bottle of spirits between them, they are drinking the equivalent of 22 glasses of full strength beer, 22 cans of mid-strength beer, more than 2 litres of a cask of red wine, or more than three bottles of champagne. For most young people, if they tried to do drink this amount of other forms of alcohol they would find it almost impossible to do so quickly before feeling the effects, thus preventing them from drinking more.
“Sharing a bottle of spirits is becoming a regular practice amongst some teenagers and something we urgently need to address”
Spirits, on the other hand, are much easier to consume quickly because you don’t need as much to achieve the desired effect. By the time you do feel the negative effects, you have drunk too much and are unable to modify your drinking accordingly. This is what is getting young people into trouble … sharing a bottle of spirits is becoming a regular practice amongst some teenagers and something we urgently need to address.
Paul Dillon has been working in drug education for 25 years. He is the Director and founder of Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia (DARTA) and is passionate about delivering accurate and up-to-date alcohol and other drug information.
He is the author of ‘Teenagers, Alcohol and Drugs – What your kids really want and need to know about alcohol and drugs‘ – this is a The Kids Are All Right recommended read.