Booze battle: alarming surge in young people seeking alcohol help

THE number of young people seeking help for alcohol abuse in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs has more than quadrupled in five years.

The Youth Substance Abuse Service in Box Hill, which helps people aged 12-21 in Monash and other eastern municipalities, says 135 young people presented to the service last year – up from 28 in 2003.

YSAS Box Hill manager Kate Catchlove said the rise in presentations showed “society was starting to be aware of the impact of alcohol”.

“More people are recognising this as more of an issue than five years ago and are seeking assistance.

“It’s a really good opportunity to put it out there that there’s an issue with alcohol and our culture that we have to attack.”

She said almost 900 people used the service from 2003-07.

Many clients were using a combination of alcohol, cannabis and amphetamines.

Ms Catchlove said the underlying reasons for substance abuse were the same as in previous years.

“Unfortunately, this kind of drug use is often symptomatic of a young person having experienced extreme childhood trauma.”

Waverley Emergency Adolescent Care chief executive Maureen Buck said it was time to “break” Australia’s drinking culture.

She said many of its clients, as young as 12, learned their habits from parental role models.

“When you do talk with the parents, their culture is very `normal’ about drinking. It’s used as a tool to relax, a tool to enjoy life. We talk to dads and they say it’s [their child’s] right [to drink]; ‘he needs to learn to hold his grog’. But it’s not a good role model for young people.”

A State Government spokesman said it was concerned about evidence showing an increase in harmful binge-drinking among young people.

The Government had released the Victorian Alcohol Action Plan, which included funding for family therapeutic intervention for young people abusing alcohol.

Opposition Drug Abuse spokeswoman Mary Wooldridge said there was growing concern from service providers and families about young people and alcohol abuse. “We need a whole-of-community response to this.”