Kids hit the bottle

2019-04-30 11:57
(Photo by wolterfoto/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

(Photo by wolterfoto/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

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Parents, do you trust your underage teenager to refuse alcohol when you are not around?

Experts have warned that underage drinking is a major problem in the province, with alcohol affecting brain development, decision making and memory.

According to, an organisation set on ending alcohol abuse, statistics show that 50% of South African teenagers drink alcohol and 25% of school-going children have participated in binge drinking. CEO Ingrid Louw said recent studies by the organisation found the youth consume alcohol to help them relax.

“They say it makes them more sociable and their friends drink, or they drink because of peer pressure,” she said.

University of KwaZulu-Natal programme of criminology and forensics Professor Nirmala Gopal said youths may start drinking from a young age due to peer pressure or by mimicking the actions of their parents, although sometimes the child will drink to experiment. She said alcohol affects two crucial parts of the brain which are vulnerable when a teenager is developing. “This can result in irreversible brain changes that can impact decision making, personality, memory and learning.

“The youth may see underage drinking as cool or a way to rebel against strict parents. In extreme situations there may be underlying psychological or psychiatric conditions they are inadvertently treating through alcohol.”

Gopal said alcohol is also very accessible to the youth through a “variety of informal and probably unlicensed taverns and shebeens where there are no client age restrictions”.

“Adults are enablers in purchasing the alcohol and distributing to underage individuals.

“Drinking has no age, race, economic or gender barriers; all individuals are susceptible especially where drinking is rife and seen as acceptable by parents, communities and school peers. Alcohol is not seen as an illicit substance [in South Africa] so accessibility is not a challenge. Most youngsters indulging in alcohol may also use drugs and so the combined effect is psychologically devastating. This then leads to social problems such as truancy, theft and so on,” she said.

University of KwaZulu-Natal School of Health Sciences lecturer December Mpanza said that according to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention there are a number of health problems that come from underage drinking.

He said the list included disruption of normal growth and sexual development, a higher risk for suicide and homicide, changes in the brain’s development that may have life-long effects, and death from alcohol poisoning.

“In addition, underage drinking is mostly a gateway for other drug abuse. Usually after exploring alcohol, young people explore drugs such as whoonga, dagga and so on, which has extremely negative health consequences.

“Sadly for girls, underage drinking also prepares a favourable ground for sexual abuse and for some girls their first sexual experience [consensual or not] was after they had a few drinks with people they know or a close friend.”

Mpanza said underage drinking is a problem in KZN. Drug and alcohol abuse is spread evenly among young people, he added.

underage drinking

The only difference is the type of drug or form of alcohol used and this is dependent on what is available and how affordable it is in a particular area.

Mpanza said parents need to be vigilant of their children’s behaviour and what they do at social events.

“They should know their children’s whereabouts. They should educate their children about the dangers of drinking, especially at a young age.

“As a parent you cannot keep your child in a cocoon but you can limit exposure as much as possible until they are able to make the right judgments and their own decisions. Education about the dangers of drinking is essential. For instance, parents should discuss the long-term effects of alcohol.

“It is pointless telling your child not to drink but not guiding them in how to say no to peer pressure and why they should not drink,” said Mpanza.

Drinks on a table @ Cargo, London, UK September 20

Local schools take firm stand

Epworth School spokesperson Vicky Crookes said Epworth takes a firm stance against underage drinking.

“As per our school code of conduct, no one identifiable as a pupil of Epworth, whether in or out of uniform, may possess, distribute or use alcohol on or off the school premises.

“We adopt a pastoral approach to the social challenges that all teenagers have to navigate. We rely on the support of parents to partner us in this endeavour,” she said.

Carter High School leaner affairs official Johan de Goede said in terms of the South African Schools Act, all schools are declared alcohol and drug free.

“The regulations governing public schools in KZN state the use, sale or possession of illicit substances are considered serious misconduct that could lead to suspension or expulsion. Even consuming alcohol in public whilst in our school uniform will constitute misconduct.

“We emphasise parent and family support. Schools are not only required to fulfil the requirements of policies but education about alcohol and drugs forms a large part of our prevention programmes.”

Maritzburg College spokesperson Sally Upfold said the school considers the issue of underage alcohol consumption very seriously.

“We have only had one incident in the last five years where a pupil was found drinking in school uniform on the school property.

“The school’s position is detailed in our code of conduct and would result in the set-up of a disciplinary tribunal with all its consequences.

“Any leadership positions could be removed from a pupil if found guilty, and in addition to warning letters being issued, the pupil could be asked to complete community service.

“In the event of an underage pupil consuming alcohol while in casual clothing off the campus, we will inform the parents and hand the pupil over to them to manage.

“We take this issue very seriously at College and consider it to be as much of a problem as pupils being found in the possession of drugs ...” she said.

Large number of pupils admit drinking at school

According to studies in the Free State and Mpumalanga by, in 2018 pupils in the senior category (grades 8 to 10) reported higher rates of binge drinking, although the juniors appeared to drink more often.

• A large proportion of the junior category (grades 5 to 7) reported

having consumed alcohol on school property.

• Around 50% of all pupils across both categories indicated they have been a passenger with a drunk driver.

• Peer influences emerged as a key risk factor in both categories.

• More of the senior category recognised the link between risky sexual behaviour and alcohol. More pupils in the junior category, however, reported drinking alcohol the last time they had sex.

• More juniors indicated they require help for their alcohol use.

Drinks on a table @ Cargo, London, UK September 20

‘Young people think they’re invincible’

A KwaZulu-Natal trauma surgeon, who asked not to be named, said one of the most prominent marks of a young person’s psyche is they think they are invincible.

“They think people die when they’re old. Look at the Jackass movies, for instance. Those boys perform the most mind-boggling stunts and put their own lives in grave danger.

“They do this not because they are experienced stuntmen who have made a study of each stunt and calculated its risks, but simply because they are young and stupid, thinking they cannot get injured or killed.”

The surgeon said it is a well-known fact that major trauma happens far more to young men than young women. “A trauma surgeon friend of mine in America says ‘testosterone is a neurotoxin’. He told me about foolish things his son had done in his teens, and when he asked his son ‘what were you thinking?’, his son would say he didn’t know. The frightening thing is, he really didn’t know. He just acted without thinking.

“The bottom line is young people, and young men in particular, are unthinking high-risk lifestyle individuals. Add alcohol to that, remove whatever inhibitions were in place, and it is a fatal accident waiting to happen,” he said.

Underage drinking comes with many risks

A Pietermaritzburg paramedic, who asked not to be named, said there were many dangers and risks when it came to underage drinking.

The man, who has been a paramedic for the past 30 years, said there is always an increase in cases of underage drinking over the school holidays as children are often left unsupervised.

“I have seen underage drinking predominantly in the rural areas. The next category is rich white children. In the rural areas, we see underage drinkers getting into fights, getting stabbed. Drinking and assault go hand-in-hand.

“Among the rich white children, we mainly see lots of drug-use but also underage drinking. Usually these children will sustain trauma injuries because they will try to impress their friends by jumping off the roof into the swimming pool, for example.

“When anyone drinks alcohol, there is a decrease in their motor skills and their inhibitions fall away. The same goes for underage drinkers, except alcohol will affect young people a lot quicker than an adult. For children under the age of 18, the liver takes a lot of damage when alcohol is consumed. This is because their system is unable to break down and get rid of the alcohol from their body like an adult can.

“I have attended incidents where teenagers have become paralytically drunk. They vomit and then aspirate some of the vomit back into their lungs. Then we need to get them onto a ventilator right away, otherwise they will die.”

Underage kids use creative ways to enter clubs

A former club bouncer, now living in Estcourt, said underage children can become quite creative with finding ways to enter clubs and access alcohol.

The former bouncer, who asked not to be named, said the best thing a bouncer or club can do to ensure underage children do not slip in is to check everyone’s ID at the door.

“You cannot speculate on a person’s age by the way they look. You have to check their IDs, and although there are quite a few fake IDs out there, you can usually pick it up ...”

He said it was easier for girls to enter clubs when they are underage as they can make themselves look older by the way they dress, style their hair and by wearing make-up.

Substance use in adolescents a concern

University of KwaZulu-Natal child psychologist Dr Saeeda Paruk said substance use in adolescents is an increasing public health concern and the most commonly used substances include nicotine, alcohol and cannabis but can extend to include a wide range of illicit substances.

“There are many risk and protective factors associated with teenage alcohol use.

“These include genetic factors, educational levels, psychosocial factors and family conflict.”

Dr Paruk said other factors were poor parental supervision, peer pressure, adverse life events and environmental factors.

‘Keep teens occupied to lessen scourge’

Durban-based clinical psychologist Michael Theron said most sporting events heavily advertised alcohol with adults drinking openly.

He said it made it seem as if alcohol is not so bad. “People are tired of hearing the same message.

“If you do not offer teenagers various activities and opportunities, such as sport, or dancing and so on, they will get up to nonsense. Instead of adults telling teenagers not to drink, we should be listening to them and what they need.

“You cannot blame the youth, you have to blame the adult for not taking more accountability.

“Why give your child R200 to go to the mall on a Saturday night? Why allow children at house parties where there might be alcohol?

“It is like placing a child in a toyshop and telling them not to play with any toys. Peer pressure is all part of the developmental stage for teenagers so it is more difficult to resist because they want to fit in.”

Theron said teenagers are bored and therefore drawn to alcohol. He said erecting more sports grounds, and organising after school activities could help prevent children from trying alcohol because they are occupied with something else.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  underage drinking

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