These evening I posted a lengthy comment on a Stuff.co.nz opinion piece titled Andy Towers: New Zealand doesn't have a culture of youth drinking
, my words stewing overnight and this morning after the first wave of commenters apparently failed to read and comprehend even the first two paragraphs. I'm happy to say some more intelligent voices had arisen in the meantime.
Quoting substantial chunks of the piece because I don't expect the above link to last forever...
I'm tired of headlines in recent years declaring New Zealand has a "youth drinking culture".
I'm tired because this claim is a lie. Not the part about youth drinking; that definitely happens. The lie is that we have a youth drinking culture. Drinking is not a 'youth culture' issue; it's a New Zealand culture issue.
A potted history of New Zealand shows we've always had an alcohol problem...
In 2012 we had an opportunity to change. The Law Commission had reviewed our history of drinking and it recommended substantial law changes to reduce alcohol-related harm. These recommendations were wholeheartedly supported by much of the general public, many community groups, and almost all health professionals and the police.
What happened? The politicians we voted for decided against change. All of the evidence-based recommendations for change were ignored, including those that would reduce harmful outcomes in youth.
At no time have any of today's youth voted on legislation that has given rise to our current binge drinking culture...
Is there any light at the end of this tunnel? Yes. Recent statistics show youth appear to be changing our country's drinking culture by themselves. Ministry of Health statistics show the proportion of past year drinkers among those aged 15-24 dropped from 84 per cent in 2006 to 76 per cent last year, with the most substantial drop among those aged 15-17 (from 75 per cent down to 57 per cent).
Youth drinking culture should not be something we complain about anymore. We should instead complain about New Zealand's drinking culture. We are responsible for the drinking culture that our youth are navigating but they at least appear to be contemplating change.
Should current trends continue, youth in the 2020s might well be correct to complain about the appalling drinking culture of middle-aged and older New Zealanders.
No one denies we have a problem with young people unable or unwilling to match their drinking to their limits, and the strain this puts on our health services and communities. But to blame them for following in the footsteps of older relatives, to somehow "know better" despite their constant exposure to this being the way things are done when you reach a certain age is to deny our own responsibility. It is to pass it off with a genial, perhaps nostalgia tinted "well that what I was like at that age" instead of standing up responsibly and saying to the next generations "I did these things and they were /stupid/ things, please be better."
To draw parallels with another article* I read very recently (on another site) it is like blaming tenants for the state of the countries cold, damp housing stock when it is ...
- landlords and
- a succession of governments who put the least-well-off in our society last, backed up by
- a cultural belief that living in an icy or mould-infested flat is a rite of passage that happens to everyone when they go out on their own so people just need to harden up
... which keep it in that state.
[* link was not included in original comment to improve the chances of making it through moderation but I will put it here The Spinoff: The other housing crisis
Preloading has been mentioned ... this is known to have increased alongside tighter regulation about who can be served and the growing expense of bar drinks compared to buying from the supermarkets or bottle stores. Without addressing the /reason/ people are drinking (I suggest because it is one of the few socially accepted/sanctioned ways to be seen to rebel) making it harder for them to drink in what should be safe spaces simply moves the activity elsewhere. Much like passing a law forbidding the homeless to take shelter in a particular area does nothing to address the actual social ills which have left them not even looked after by our so-called social welfare system, simply lets people feel that something has been done. The problem still exists, it has just been moved "out of sight, out of mind".
Until we (and that umbrella is going to be pretty much include everyone reading this article) stop implicitly or explicitly allowing intoxication to be used as a social get-out-of-jail-free card to excuse abusive (self or other) behaviour, *whatever the age group* young people are going to continue going through their growing years immersed in the idea that it's OK to drink heavily and do stupid shit once you hit a certain age, and the problem is not going to go away.
Fortunately as the author of the piece notes the generations coming through now may be on the way to changing that culture for their kids, who may be our grandkids ang great-grandkids. Will you help or hinder them?