I was a paramedic with St John Ambulance WA for seven years. During this time I was confronted on a regular basis with the reality of an insidious epidemic that affects our population and causes much damage and mayhem.
This is the epidemic of alcohol abuse, and it was widespread and confronting. I have picked up quite a few drunks from the street in the ambulance. Maybe when I say the words street and drunk together you get a picture of a down and out vagrant wandering the streets aimlessly with the bottle of whatever clasped firmly in his/her hand. Maybe you don’t.
I want to let you know that many of the drunks I picked up from the street were teenagers – lying in the street or public places, often in pools of vomit, sometimes with friends nearby, sometimes not; so drunk that they had passed out. They ended up in a bed in the emergency departments of hospitals; taking up a much-needed emergency bed whilst they dried out and woke up. They would drink in the name of a good time, with the reality often being so different that it was hard to believe that many of them would continue to binge drink in this way on a regular basis.
I am aware that for this generation of young people drunkenness is often worn as a badge of honour; the more debilitating the effects of the binging episode, the more elevated the social status of the binge drinker. An individual’s awareness of the effects of their drinking on others appears, in many cases, to be extremely limited. I wonder what the average hospitalised binge drinker would think if you tried to explain to them about the effects of their drinking episodes on ambulance availability and overcrowding of emergency departments? I have not even begun to touch on the injuries associated with binge drinking that provide us with enough casualties to fill our emergency departments. PFO in ambulance code refers to a common injury mechanism and stood for ‘pissed and fallen over’. What other injuries or accidents are associated with binge drinking? The list is long and includes motor vehicle accidents, head injuries, domestic violence, sexual and physical assault and all manner of injuries caused by the avoidable accidents which occur when people lose their judgement and inhibitions.
Are we, as adults, teaching and modelling to our young people a sense of social responsibility in this area? Shouldn’t we all consider the concept that, even though the drinking of alcohol may be an individual right and decision, the negative effects of this drug if we choose to abuse it, have far-reaching effects on the rights of others?