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Matters of Substance

The Youth Addiction Service Manager - Deb Fraser

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Deb FraserDirector of Dunedin Child and Youth Drug and Alcohol Mental Health Service Mirror Services.

Deb Fraser works with young people who are tempted by ready access to alcohol that is “cheap as chips” and sold alongside everyday household items in supermarkets. Her team deal with children who, by their early teens, have already formed problematic relationships with alcohol and are facing life-long consequences. Mirror Services counsellors see young people who are facing charges of violence, have caused injury to others while drink-driving or have unwanted pregnancies as a result of drunken casual sex.

Fraser agrees with Law Commission President Sir Geoffrey Palmer who has spoken of a “sinking lid” among young people trying alcohol for the first time and developing drinking habits.

“More young people have access to alcohol younger than they would have in the past,” she says.

When the legal drinking age was 20, Fraser says young people were experimenting at 15 or 16. Now, with a legal drinking age of 18, many are drinking by 13 or 14 at the expense of other activities such as sport.

“Overall, we see kids not being so involved in other activities because they are spending more [time] drinking.”

Fraser says the earlier young people are introduced to alcohol, the more likely they are to experience problem drinking later in life. For this reason, she would support efforts to make alcohol more difficult for young people to purchase.

The biggest problem New Zealand faces in relation to alcohol is society’s acceptance – even celebration – of excessive drinking, she says.

Dunedin is particularly affected by the hard-drinking “southern man” culture and the excessive-drinking student culture.

Fraser says parental responsibility regarding teenage drinking seems to be lacking in New Zealand society. At adolescence, Kiwi parents tend to start backing off and allowing their children greater freedom when they should actually be taking a much closer interest in their children’s lives and offering more guidance.