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Busting myths about young people & alcohol

Young people respond much better to positive messaging, and tend to ignore negative campaigns as irrelevant or extreme cases (see, for example, this, this and this article). A constant message we hear time and time again from young people themselves is that so much negativity surrounds what it means to be young in our community, to the point where young people start to believe the negative stereotypes, and forget about all the positive things young people are out there doing and creating.

We know that people of all ages drink to the levels that they think their peers are drinking at – regardless of actual drinking levels (see, for example, here). If young people believe that all young people are trouble, out drinking until they pass out, taking drugs and destroying property…what are they going to do? Try to fit into the norm, that’s what.

Ychange? undertook a survey of young people aged 12 to 30 across the Top End earlier this year to find out how much young people really are drinking, and how much they thought their friends were drinking. This is some of what we found:

Myth: Everyone drinks.

Fact: The majority of young people under the legal drinking age had not drunk alcohol in the previous month (58.6%). For those over the legal age, some 15% had not had any alcohol in the same time period.

Young people were asked how much they drank on a typical night, and then how much they thought their friends drank on a typical night. The vast majority of young people would drink between 0-4 drinks per occasion, with less than 10% drinking more than 8 drinks on a single occasion. However, most respondents believed that their peers drank more than 5 drinks on a single occasion, and more than 20% believed that their peers on average drank more than 9.

Strikingly, more than one in four in the 15-17 age group believed that their peers drank more than 9 drinks in any one occasion, when the reality is that only 5% in that age group drank to this extent.

This shows perhaps some negative influences of the marketing of health campaigns towards young people, as it helps to further establish the “norm” of the drunk and dangerous young person out there, where the reality is actually quite different.

To make real change, we need to start a new conversation, one that focuses and celebrates the positive choices and actions of young people as a norm. Positive messaging helps us all to feel better, and gives a solution to the problem, rather than just highlighting the problem with no hope for redemption.

So let’s start by busting some of the negative myths that surround young people, and start creating a new, positive stereotype for people to celebrate and try to live up to. Celebrating the achievements of young people everyday can go a long way towards improving the opinion young people have of themselves, and, perhaps more importantly, the opinion the community has of young people.

This month the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education is the Official On-Screen Partner for the One Direction ‘Take Me Home’ Australian Tour: 5th, 6th, 16th, 19th, 20th, 23rd, 24th, 25th, 26th, 29th & 30th October 2013.

To celebrate, FARE is asking people to tell the story of the best alcohol-free night of their lives.

Anna Ashenden

Anna’s background is in psychology and she has spent more than four years living and working in communities throughout the Caribbean and Latin America. She recently returned to Australia as a Project Manager for a youth-led health promotion initiative “Ychange?” in Darwin while studying her Master of International and Community Development. She is passionately barefoot, addicted to ice cream, and a firm believer in following your dreams.

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