Drink Tank

Education key to cultural change

Policy makers have long debated a range of solutions to reduce alcohol harms. However it’s apparent that much of the problem lies in the Australian society’s normalisation of getting drunk. While those who drink responsibly should be able to enjoy alcohol, we need to educate and inform the younger generations of the harms related to alcohol misuse in order to encourage a cultural shift in our attitude toward drinking.

Step Back Think is a not-for-profit organisation established in 2007, whose goal is to reduce social violence in Victoria in collaboration with similar interstate organisations, across Australia. Whilst our organisation does not primarily address alcohol use in young people, we acknowledge that alcohol misuse continues to be a major contributor to violence rates in Australia, often referred to as ‘alcohol-fuelled violence’.

The Problem
Years of Australian research has highlighted this close association between alcohol consumption and acts of violence. We know that as sale of alcohol increases so does the incidence of violent crime, and that violence clusters around licensed premises.

This relationship is further strengthened in cultures where drinking to intoxication is the norm, and with 35 per cent of Australian drinkers claiming that their primary purpose when drinking is “to get drunk” we have a reasonably ingrained drinking culture here in Australia.

Australian’s drink choices have also singificantly changed over the past 50 years, with a switch to preference drinks with higher alcohol percentage (wine consumption up 25 per cent, spirits up eight per cent, and beer down 34 per cent) increasing the rates of intoxication.

The research on ‘alcohol-fuelled’ violence is staggering. Of the 94 Australians who have lost their lives following a one-punch assault, alcohol intoxication was detected in 79 per cent of cases (with a median BAC reading of 0.14). The prevalence of other drugs was uncommon with cannabis directly trailing alcohol presence and found in only 9 cases. According to 2010 National Drugs Strategy Household Survey, Australians reported that:

  • Alcohol is implicated in up to 73 per cent of all assaults
  • 1 in 4 Australians had been a victim of an alcohol-related assault.
  • 59 per cent of physical assault victims aged 18 years + believed alcohol contributed to their most recent incident.
  • Two thirds of males aged 18 + years put themselves at risk of an alcohol related injury at least once a month
  • The proportion of people being physically abused by a person under the influence of alcohol increased significantly between 2007 and 2010 (from 4.5% to 8.1%)
  • 66 per cent of patients presenting at an emergency department with injuries from interpersonal violence reported having consumed alcohol prior to the incident.

The evidence is there: we have all heard, seen, and read about the impact of alcohol fuelled violence, but how can we change the culture surrounding the issue?

Step Back Think’s Solution
Crime prevention is about ‘building fences at the top of cliffs rather than parking ambulances at the bottom of them, and no one community institution plays a larger role in the lives of children and youth than schools” – Andre Haermeyer, Minister for Police and Emergency Services in Victoria

We acknowledge that the factors that drive individuals to make certain choices are extremely complex and multi-dimensional, and require targeted and collaborative intervention at an individual, peer, family, and population level.

However, Step Back Think believe that through targeted education of Australian students we can create the cultural change which will drive future generations to make smarter and more informed choices in risk situations.

Teachers provide unique access to youths during their most critical developmental years when we know the major individual and peer-related risk factors begin to emerge, including reduced self-esteem and self-worth, lack of connectedness, lack of identity, and poor verbal reasoning and problem-solving skills. This means that the school setting provides the ideal platform for alcohol education and violence prevention.

The Step Back Think Education programs draw on these underlying individual and peer group factors, including personal identity, belief and value systems, relationships, and understanding emotions. Furthermore our programs equip students with decision making strategies and skills to make safe choices when confronted with risks inside and outside the school yard.

It also provides basic drug and alcohol education, and outlines some of the personal, social, and legal consequences associated with social violence for both the victim and the perpetrator. The program was designed using a sequential approach, with carefully designed content to maximise Australian Health Curriculum requirements.

From February 2015 Step Back Think will be offering a four-year interactive teaching module for students in Years 7 to 10, with “top up” refresher presentations in Years 11 and 12 by Step Back Think members who have been victims of social violence themselves. The program focuses on the five broad areas of identity, relationships, emotions, risk taking, and safe choices.

If you would like more information about the modules or how to access them, please email [email protected].

Coco Bernard

Coco Bernard is the Executive Research Officer at Step Back Think. She is currently completing her Doctoral training in Clinical Neuropsychology at Monash University, and has worked as a drug and alcohol researcher for the for the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre and currently works in Traumatic Brain Injury research at Monash Epworth Rehabilitation Research Centre.

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