The hidden threat
A tolerance towards alcohol and tobacco in the Greek community has the potential to threaten the future of our teenagers
The health of the Greek Australian community looks bleak if we don't start changing our views on alcohol and tobacco and warning our teenagers about the health threat that both these drugs pose.
Professor in Health Psychology John Toumbourou told Neos Kosmos that the Greek community "are setting [themselves] up to have big health problems ... in the future".
As a health professional, he says alcohol and tobacco far outweigh the damage any of the other drugs do, and we as a community need to start discussing the dangers and the associated health impacts instead of denying the damage that alcohol and tobacco can do, which may impact the lifestyle of our Greek Australian youth.
"We have to deal with that as a community and we have to realise that [tobacco and alcohol] is going to cause cancers and health problems down the line.
"We have a lot of alcohol in the Greek community that is denied and we're all aware of people that have alcohol problems but as a community we tend not to take any action, so I think there are a lot of hidden problems with alcohol in our community," Professor Toumbourou tells Neos Kosmos.
For the Greek Australian teenagers, Professor Toumbourou says our community doesn't suffer by and large like other communities in Australia for drug and alcohol usage in the teenage population, but says there is danger with the level of tolerance of alcohol and tobacco in our community. And because of this tolerance, Greek Australian teenagers are more prone to thinking that either of those drugs aren't addictive and aren't educated about the long-term health problems associated.
This comes off the back of the Victorian Government announcing a new radical program for secondary school students arming them with information and education on drug and alcohol use.
Secondary schools around Victoria are set to drop the 'just say no' to drugs and alcohol message and replace it with a program that aims to educate and inform the secondary students about the dangers and health impacts of drugs and alcohol. The program, aimed at year 8 and 9 students, will give a renewed focus to drug and alcohol education and is hoped that other states get on board.
Professor Toumbourou applauds this new program that will assist teenage Victorians make informed decisions about their health. Mr Toumbourou told Neos Kosmos that as long as we live in a free society where teenagers have access to alcohol and drugs, then we have to educate them on the health harms and risks associated.
"It's not going to help to put our heads in the sand," he says, "we have to realise that a lot of young people do use alcohol and drugs and it's important that we have a graded message and not only have one message."
The program will be rolled out to year 8 and 9 students and will see them undertake a range of lessons such as: how alcohol affects the body; pouring a standard drink; understanding blood alcohol content and safer levels of use; first aid information for overdoses and seeking help from adults.
He adds that the most important aspect of this program is to educate the teenagers on leading and encouraging a healthier lifestyle.
"School education is an effective strategy to reduce alcohol and drug use," says Professor Toumbourou.
The education program includes information about injecting drug use and identifying drug-free ways of achieving 'high' and 'serene' states of mind could have the potential of being dangerous to young and vulnerable minds if the program hasn't been carefully evaluated.
Professor Toumbourou says that if there was "over emphasis" on information about certain drugs it could be "counter productive".
"The main dangers you have to watch out for is that the program doesn't encourage drug use amongst those that aren't involved in it," says Professor Toumbourou.
But the award-winning trial found that teaching teenagers about alcohol - rather than demanding abstinence - was the most effective way of cutting binge drinking rates.
"When you're teaching a young person about injecting drug use it doesn't mean that they will go and do it, often it turns them right off," he says, "the same with alcohol."
The program's intention is so young people fully understand the risks of teenage drinking and drug use, and the health impacts involved, which will in turn prompt them to steer clear of that lifestyle.
The main dangers of teenage drug and alcohol use are major accidents, sexually transmitted diseases, injuries, acts of violence that end up with legal or social implications, but also irreparable health concerns such as brain damage and physical harm that occurs over time that are difficult to overcome.
With teenagers, peer pressure is recognised as one of the leading causes of drug and alcohol use and the program aims at educating teenagers to stand up for themselves and be assertive when exposed to drugs and alcohol.
"The evidence is very clear that often young people get involved in drugs and alcohol not because they are making the choice themselves, but just simply what happens is they get drawn into it because of their social pressures," and adds that the educational component of standing up to social pressure is a "positive aspect of the program" and a "very enlightened feature of the program".
The Victorian Government is set to roll out the program, this year after a successful three-year trial in 21 Victorian schools. The program will also encourage conversations with parents about drug and alcohol use who will also point out the dangers of getting involved in drug and alcohol use to their children.
Professor Toumbourou, who supports the legal age of drinking to be raised to 21, says this is all round a very positive step by the government to curb teenage drinking and drug use and will inform and educate a "young person to make the choice not to get involved".
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