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Failure of the Law to Protect Adolescence Against Drug Use in Australia

Executive summary

The concern over drug and substance abuse among adolescents has been discussed far and wide all over the world. More so, research studies by World Health Organization and other interest groups have underscored the fact that adolescents in western countries are the most affected. Alcohol use among adolescents takes precedence as compared to other drugs and consequently this report puts more emphasis on this vice. Statistics show that over half of adolescents in Australia abuse alcohol because the use of alcohol is perceived as a socially acceptable norm. The gravity of the matter is that alcohol abuse among adolescents in Australia continues to persist even though it is illegal to sell alcohol to individuals below 18years. Concurrently, the latest empirical research reveals that factors ranging from biological, social to emotional are likely to predispose an individual to abuse alcohol and other illicit drugs. On the same note, risky levels habit of alcohol consumption continues to persist among adolescents and consequently, the users are predisposed to several harmful effects classified under the wide umbrella of physical health and myriad psychological distresses. Furthermore, this report provides some insightful recommendations mostly directed at the youth office, Department of health matters family issues, and lawmakers. The recommendations postulated herein include programs aimed at preventing the onset of alcohol consumption, design, and implementation of preventive campaigns in media and schools, and effective law enforcement to prevent access to alcohol and other drugs. Introduction


This report aims to investigate the prevalence of illicit and licit drug abuse among adolescent youths in Australia. The main purpose of preparing this report is to expose the magnitude and consequences of drug use among adolescent youth in Australia and consequently to provide timely recommendations that the department of youth issues in Australia, department of health, family issues can implement to do away with the above problems once and for all. In addition, the report will serve as a wake-up call to Australian parents and the Queensland government to take the issue seriously before the future of this country is jeopardized because drug users are unlikely to yield any fruitful benefits to the nation. Drugs users continue to overburden the already deficit health care plan budget due to the many health risks associated with the vice.


Drug and substance abuse among the youth has continued to be a headache to many governments especially in western countries where prevalence is high. Although many western governments including Australia have shown considerable effort directed towards policy development to curb this vice, their effort is still insignificant because the consequences attached to the vice jeopardize the future of those countries if leaders of tomorrow are not protected from self-destruction.

A recent report by the youth office in Australia exposed appalling information about the prevalence of drug abuse among youths below 18 years. The report indicates that alcohol use, which is the most abused, among youth between 13-18 years is on the rise and it is threatening to replace soft drinks in socializing meetings, despite the prohibited sale of alcohol to this particular age group (Muir et al., 2009, p. 104). On the same note, an earlier report by the Australian institute of family studies had indicated that adolescents did not perceive any wrongdoing in using alcohol, tobacco, ecstasy, and amphetamines since they consider the use of the same a socially acceptable habit. This is in contrast to the negative perception of heroin and cannabis (Hayes et al., 2004). The reported level of alcohol consumption among the youths indicates that over 90% of Australian youths have experimented with alcohol by the age of 14 years (Hayes et al. 2004).

Numerous researches under the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, more specific the 2001 report by the National Drug Strategy and Household Survey arrived at an average figure of between 14-15 years to show the onset age at which Australian youths consumed their first glass of alcohol (Hayes et al., 2004 ). The fact that most youths in Australia perceive alcohol to be socially acceptable portrays that they are also likely to be ignorant of the risk factors associated with alcohol use. According to Hayes et al., (2004), alcohol use among adolescent youths predisposed them to several harms such as risky sexual behavior, memory lapses, violence, psychological problems, and central nervous system problems among others. Toumbourou et al (2007, p. 1391) also confirm that most deaths and diseases among the youths in developed countries can be directly linked to alcohol and other illicit drugs. As confirmed in Muir et al. (2009, p. 104) report, adolescents continue to have access to alcohol despite the fact the sale of alcohol to this age group is illegal in Australia. This shocking evidence indicates that the law has failed to protect these young people from their ignorance, hence the significance of recommendations at the end of this report.


Although research into the topic is spread far and wide, this report only concentrated on statistics, data, and literature from the year 1999 to the present. Besides, even though adolescents were predisposed to abuse various types of drugs, this report concentrated more on alcohol consumption since it is the most prevalent.


A literature review of the relevant materials was conducted based on authentic and reliable sources; mostly reports published by the government of Australia. Additionally, a review of the global and Australian trend of drug use among the youths as well as a critical review of whether the law has been ignorant or helpful in the task of eliminating the vice was obtained from academic journals, books, and government reports.


The following section will present the findings of research about drugs abuse among adolescent youths in Australia to expose how the law has failed to prevent the vice. As well, statistics of drugs abuse prevalence among the adolescent youths in Australia are analyzed in detail whereby more weight rests on alcohol use which is considered licit in Australia yet it has far-reaching effects on the youths. In addition, several consequences arising from drug and substance abuse among the adolescent youths are highlighted upon which several recommendations, which are directed at several Australian departments, are explained in detail.

Findings and discussion

Overview of the problem

The background study provided above indicates that drug abuse among adolescents especially alcohol consumption is a grave matter that calls for immediate action. However, before tabling the recommendations, this paper commences by highlighting in details the prevalence of drug abuse among the adolescents, the associated harm, and the reasons for drug abuse in an attempt to portray the far reaching consequences that warrant for prompt intervention measures.

Alcohol and substance abuse among adolescents

According to Muir et al. (2009, p. 104), the Queensland government recognizes adolescents as persons between the ages of 13 and14years. Concurrently, persons within this age group are prohibited from using alcohol and other licit drugs. However, the above situation is only applicable in theory are actual research data indicates otherwise. However, underage drinking is not just a common phenomenon in Australia but widely recognized problem across the world (Cismaru, Lavack & Markewich, 2008, 283). Review of past literature on alcohol consumption among adolescents indicates that the situation is getting out of hand as onset age continued to decrease at an alarming rate. Whereas an earlier report by Hayes et al. (2004) had reported the onset age to be averaged at 14-15 years, subsequent report by Muir (et al. 2009, p. 104) and Magor (2008) shows that the above trend is slowly changing as youths as young as 12 years are initiated to the vice.

Table 1.1 Alcohol consumption among 15-17 year olds adolescents. Source: Household Income and Labour Distribution in Australia 2007 statistics cited by (Muir, et al. 2009, p. 104).

Alcohol consumption Percentage of young men 15-17 years (%) Percentage of young women 15-17 years (%)
Never 40.2 44.8
No longer drink 3.1 1.7
Drink alcohol everyday 1.3 0.1
Drink alcohol 5 or 6 days per week 0.2 0.6
Drink alcohol 3 or 4 days per week 1.6 0.5
Drink alcohol 1 or 2 days per week 16.1 8.4
Drink alcohol 2 or 3 days per month 13.1 11.3
Drink alcohol but rarely 24.5 32.5
Total 100.0 100.0

The statistics presented in the table above only confirms the worst. The fact that more that 50% of adolescents confesses to have used alcohol at least once before they reach the age of 18 years is a matter of concern. Although, the above table indicates that most adolescents are occasional users of alcohol, empirical researches indicate that consumption of the first glass increases the risk of regular drinking (Hayes et al. 2009).

Society influence on underage drinking in Australia

The issue of drug abuse among adolescents have caught the attention of scholars and stakeholders alike, and for this reason, numerous researches have been conducted to unearth the mystery behind this self destructive vice. A recent research by Hayes et al. (2009) explored the role of parental and society influence in relation to alcohol use among the adolescents indicated that the society had a role to play in promoting alcohol use prevalence among the youth. The most obvious reason why the society in Australia should be blamed is due to the fact that it portrays alcohol use as socially acceptable. Therefore, some youth commences alcohol consumption in an attempt to feel part and parcel of the society (Hayes et al. 2009). Similarly, an earlier review about the risk factors of drug abuse by Spooner (1999, p. 453-475) unearthed elements such as personality traits, biological predisposition to the vice, family relationships, peer pressure, among others. As well, Hayes (2004) blamed alcohol abuse among the adolescents to negative parenting influences.

Ease of access

Hayes et al (2009) in their report cite NSDHS and ASSAD data which indicated that most alcohol users among adolescent were initiated into the habit during social parties (average 70%). As well, the initiation also occurred at a friend’s home and at their own homes. Nonetheless, this group of people is usually ignorant of the harm arising from alcohol consumption. Similarly, Cismaru, Lavack and Markewich (2008, p. 284) underscore that underage drinking can be blamed for the numerous health and social problems affecting adolescents around the world today. In addition, Cismaru, Lavack and Markewich (2008, p. 283) emphasize that the strong link between alcohol and violence puts the users at risk of being hurt physically following alcohol induced fights. A report released by Australian Bureau of Statistics in (2006) indicated that most adults and youthful alcohol users operated from a high risk level.

Risky/high alcohol consumption.
Figure II: Risky/high alcohol consumption. Source: Australian Bureau of statistics (2006).

This graphical representation above indicates that consumption of alcohol at risky levels is increasing an alarming rate every year. The nerve breaking reality is that adolescents are not spared either as statistics indicate that those between 12-15 years are at risk of sustaining harm from alcohol use and abuse (Magor, 2008) as shown in figure II below. Muir et al. (2009, p. 104) postulates that the early onset of alcohol consumption among the adolescents puts them at high risk of harm since the users are likely to increase their frequency and amount leading to an increased predisposition to harmful effects of alcohol abuse.

Risky/high risk consumption by age.
Figure 1: Risky/high risk consumption by age. Source: Australian bureau of statistics (2006).

Although, it is heartbreaking to admit, the future of our country is not guaranteed if the trend shown above is allowed to continue. The above graph indicates that the most productive people in the population are engaging in risky alcohol consumption behavior. Moreover, the fact that the statistics show an increase in risk portrays that there is some laxity of among law enforcers in curbing the vice. Definitely, such level of laxity ought to be eliminated since the high levels of psychological distress associated with alcohol abuse will bring forth far reaching economic effects to Australia (Toumbourou, et al., 2007)

Table 1.2 High/very high psychological distresses, by alcohol consumption risk level. Source: Australian bureau of statistics, (2006).

Low risk (%) Risky/High Risk (%)
Males 18-24 years 10 13
Females 18-24 years 17 31
Persons 18-24 years 13 21
Persons 25 years or more 10 12
All persons 18 years or more 10 13


In a nutshell, it is evident that drug and substance abuse among adolescents has become a pain in the neck to most governments around the world. Statistics into the vice indicate that alcohol use is in wide usage among adolescents in Australia despite the illegality of sale to this age group. Although the reasons for alcohol uptake among adolescents vary, the effects of the same can be generalized across the age group. As evident above, users of alcohol are predisposed to physical health risks as well as psychological distress especially when the levels of usage are highly risky.

It is against this background that the following recommendations are proposed for the stakeholders cited above.


Provide more information to prevent the onset

As epitomized above, most of the adolescents in Australia perceive alcohol use as harmless owing to the portrayal of alcohol as a social drink (Australia Institute of Health and Welfare, 2007, p. 13). In addition, research has also indicated that the initial initiation of alcohol consumption is what determines subsequent abuse (Australia Institute of Health and Welfare, 2007, p. 14). For this reason, it is crucial to prevent the onset of alcohol consumption among adolescents. It is imperative to mention that, a task force under the Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy (2001, p. 30) had arrived at the same conclusion. The report concurred that more adolescents are engaging in alcohol consumption and because they lack experience they end up adopting risky drinking patterns. Paglia and Room (1998, pp. 13-14) report recommended that the effective way to reduce uptake is by designing school-based programs aimed at educating and persuading the youths to stay clear of drugs.

Promote intervention programs above treatment programs

It is obvious that prevention is better than cure and this should be the underlying principle behind the formation of programs aimed at eliminating drug abuse among adolescents. As a report by Hillman et al. (2000, pp. 1-136), there is a need to provide insightful recommendations aimed at curbing the vice. The report emphasizes that for the existing Western Australian Strategy Against Drug Abuse to be effective, there is a need to incorporate strategies of prevention to promote adolescence resilience to drugs.

Reduce or eliminate access

As exemplified above, increased access to alcohol by underage persons can be blamed for increased usage among adolescents. World Health Organization (2006) factsheet highlights some workable measures to reduce alcohol-related violations. Besides, the report (WHO, 2006, p. 5) underscores that governments should come up with intervention measures to reduce access to alcohol since such measures are likely to reduce consumption and eliminate harmful effects explained above. Besides, legislation, severe and strict enforcement measures (e.g license revocation) should be put in place to minimize and if possible, eliminate access.


Australian Bureau of Statistics. 2006. Alcohol Consumption in Australia: A Snapshot, 2004. Web.

Australia Institute of Health and Welfare. 2007. Statistics on drug use in Australia 2006. Cat. No. PHE 80. Canberra: Australia Institute of Health and Welfare. Web.

Cismaru, M, Lavack, A, & Markewich, E. 2008. Alcohol consumption among young consumers: a review and recommendations. Young consumers, 9 (4), 282-296.

Hayes, L. et al. 2004. Parenting influences on adolescent alcohol use. Web.

Hillman, S.D. et al. 2000. Youth Suicide in Western Australia Involving Cannabis and Other Drugs, A literature review and research report. Canberra Western Australian Drug Abuse Strategy Office.

Magor, L. 2008. Substance Use in the 21st Century: Different or More of the Same? InPsych: The Bulletin of the Australian Psychological Society Ltd, Web.

Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy. 2001. Alcohol in Australia: Issues and Strategies. Canberra: Department of Health & Aged Care.

Muir, K. et al. 2009. State of Australia’s young people: A Report on the social, economic, health and family lives of young people. Web.

Paglia, A, & Room, R. 1998. Preventing substance use problems among youth: a literature review & recommendations, ARF Research Document No. 142. Canada: Addiction Research Foundation Division Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

Spooner, C. 1999. Causes and correlates of adolescent drug abuse and implications for treatment. Drug and Alcohol review 18, 453-475.

Toumbourou, J. W. et al. 2007. Interventions to reduce harm associated with adolescent substance use. Lancet, 369(9570) 1391-1401.

WHO. 2006. Youth Violence and Alcohol Fact Sheet. Web.

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