There seems to be a general belief that only children from a high risk background begin drinking at an early age and drink to harmful levels. This is not true. The problem is much more widespread.
Research indicates that most binge drinkers are ordinary teenagers from ordinary backgrounds, and increasingly it is young girls who are placing themselves at risk – and that risk is very high indeed.
Risky alcohol consumption contributes to a significant amount of teenage injury including falls, drownings, assaults, and of course, road trauma. It is also a major factor in teenage suicide. So what can be done?
After reviewing more than 1500 scientific books and articles to determine what works and what does not when it comes to preventing harm from risky drug use, there is strong evidence to support a number of strategies to reduce the risk for young drinkers.
Firstly, we need to provide effective drug education in the schools. Until recently, the majority of drug education programs have mimicked the US model, promoting abstinence or delayed onset of use. This approach has achieved varying levels of success, particularly in the short term, but only a few programs have been properly evaluated. We believe that drug education programs need to be based on the best available research evidence, need to be trialed with the target group (teenagers) and evaluated before being used widely in the schools.
The School Health and Harm Reduction Project (SHAHRP) , which was trialed in Perth, is one such program and it has been particularly successful. This program achieved a staggering 20 per cent reduction in alcohol consumption compared to groups that had not taken part, and a 33 per cent reduction in harm associated with their drinking. SHAHRP was successful because it recognised that kids do drink, that