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Speaker: Seeking Better Science

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  • dyan campbell,

    In my home town a good proportion of the males in my age group are lying in the local cemeteries from motorcycle and car accidents, many involving alcohol. This happened before all the media coverage, guilt inducing nanny state legislation and justifications for curtailing civil liberties.

    Your memories are like mine - I remember three young men dying in succession at my high school back in the 70s in Canada - all three from booze, in a city awash with hard drugs at the time. But what you may remember and what is actually happening if you are in the business of paying attention to these things are not necessarily the same things. The landscape out there has changed, and the consequences can be far reaching.

    Do you guys really think it's always been like this?

    I also want to point out this is worldwide and is a pretty weird phenomenon, driven by something.

    Brighton's Top Doctor Warns of Serious Health Problems

    Man Refused Liver Transplant Dies

    auckland • Since Dec 2006 • 595 posts Report Reply

  • Islander,

    dyan campbell - there is some evidence that things were very much worse in the first 4 decades of concentrated European settlement here.Talking alcohol consumption. Kids have - it appears - always given it a go, when available. And that's the thing that is now different - and can easily be sorted: kids like sweet & fizzy drinks. Ban alcho-pop.

    Prior to European settlement there was no drug or alcohol or nicotine abuse: there was, however, considerable involvement in adrenalin stimulation & rushes- want we go back to war?

    sexual activity routinely began at puberty among Polynesians (including Maori) and was not discouraged (except when it went across rank lines, or involved puhi.) And it certainly wasnt unknown at that age & stage among the second wave of settlers-

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • dyan campbell,

    dyan campbell - there is some evidence that things were very much worse in the first 4 decades of concentrated European settlement here.

    This is very true for NZs early history Islander, I certainly agree with that.

    But the current cause for alarm is within a single generation. The behaviour and consequences re: youth drinking are changing very radically.

    The huge increase in demand for fresh donor livers is cause for considerable alarm (not to mention ethical debates. Also the doubling of youth ODs on alcohol resulting in death in less than one generation suggests despite what we assume about days gone by, drinking patterns among young people have changed.

    67% Rise in Need for Liver Transplants

    Talking alcohol consumption. Kids have - it appears - always given it a go, when available.

    Give it a go, maybe, but much of the culture around drinking involves vomiting as part of the sport. It used to be an unintended and unfortunate result of too much drinking: now it is emerging as a goal of drinking sessions. The drive to make kids drink as much and as quickly as is humanly possible is being seen all around the developed world and is being driven by something.

    The concept of hard drinking - not social drinking, but drinking very, very quickly and enormous quantities - is becoming entwined with youth culture in terms of identity, personal freedom, fun and conviviality, hip-ness and cool-ness and a rebel stance against a wowser society. This is a product of viral marketing and is not coming from youth or society at all.

    And that's the thing that is now different - and can easily be sorted: kids like sweet & fizzy drinks. Ban alcho-pop.

    Banning drinks aimed at kids, yes, good idea. But not the problem: the problem was lowering the drinking age. 20 year olds don't supply alcohol to younger peers - not 12 - 16 year olds - 18 year olds do.

    sexual activity routinely began at puberty among Polynesians (including Maori) and was not discouraged (except when it went across rank lines, or involved puhi.) And it certainly wasnt unknown at that age & stage among the second wave of settlers-

    Well, yes and STDs devestated indigenous populations, didn't they?

    But again, 150 years ago is not really the benchmark modern public health is measuring itself against. And penetrative sex - genital-genital - is not the only thing that is meant by sexual activity - part of the alarm is due to the very sharp rise in oral STDs (if you can get it in your genitals, you can get it in your mouth/throat) among very young people.

    Sharp Rise in Oral Cancers

    Of course HPV is only one of the diseases they are seeing - all oral STDs are up sharply due to the changed in sexual practices - you'd be surprised at how young and how many partners. The framwork re: oral sex (fellatio anyway) has changed radically in a single generation.

    This is something that is easily followed by the rate of oral STDs and the ages at which they are being seen, and things are changing drastically out there.

    auckland • Since Dec 2006 • 595 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    rebel stance against a wowser society

    Isn't that a little contradictory? How can it be rebellion if it's something that society and mainstream culture endorse?

    Banning drinks aimed at kids, yes, good idea. But not the problem: the problem was lowering the drinking age

    Sorry, can't be that simple. Binge drinking is increasing in western countries worldwide. Not all of these countries have lowered the drinking age. Furthermore Italy has always had the laxest drinking laws and didn't have a problem with binge drinking (although it did with drink driving) until not long ago. It does now. There are social changes that have little or nothing to do with more/less prohibitive legislation or the pervasiveness of alcohol advertising.

    Drugs, sex, partying are fun, but they're also more likely to be abused if there isn't a lot else to do. My mum - who worked for decades in intermediate education in a variety of different neighbourhoods - will always maintain that it's the core issue: kids getting bored. Provide decent welfare and offer a broader range of educational, cultural and professional options - alongside education on how to minimise the damage we do to ourselves whilst having fun - and then let's take a look at those numbers again.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7412 posts Report Reply

  • Islander,

    Interesting, dyan - I hadnt caught up with the rise in oral cancers: the liver transplant increase is based on relatively low figures, but figures for all transplants, especially kidneys, have increased (I'm more aware of kidney transplant figures, as one of the whanau has had one-)

    STDs did cause havoc in some Polynesian populations, including amongst some NI east Coast Maori. What caused hugely more deaths
    were the measle, influenza & tb epidemics...

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • Peter Ashby,

    @Giovanni
    Good points. The age you can buy booze hasn't changed here in the UK either, yet the same things are happening. Here in Scotland the latest thing against the ubiquitous Buckfast is banning alcohol and high caffeine drinks (Buckie has astonishingly high caffeine levels).

    @Islander

    Teenage sexual experimentation was not a problem in indigenous or early settler societies for the simple reasons that firstly nutritional levels meant the first onset of puberty was later than it is now and their fertility was much lower for the same reason so the risks of early experimentation were much less. Secondly STDs were not a problem due to isolation and small peer groups anyway. We simply live in a very different world where teenage pregnancy is not a good idea and is a common result of early sexual exploration.

    @Dyan Campbell

    Oral STDs are indeed a problem, but nowhere near as much as teenage pregnancy, especially with genital STDs. So in terms of harm reduction it is a lesser of two evils. The kids are trying to be careful after all. So getting all down on oral sex is likely to backfire in bad ways.

    As for the age reduction. When I was a first year uni student back in '84, being 18 didn't stop us going to the pub. It made buying booze to take to the beach much harder.

    Here in the UK there is a cutoff for teenage problem drinking. It essentially ends as soon as they are old enough to get into a pub environment. Recent efforts to clamp down on underage drinking in pubs is making underage drinking worse, not better.

    Dundee, Scotland • Since May 2007 • 425 posts Report Reply

  • Peter Ashby,

    I also think that the world societies we have created are in part to blame. In a globalised world where competition at all stages is urged and nothing certain, where hard work can avail you of nothing as your job gets outsourced to China or Vietnam or whichever low wage slave economy is de jour or simply casualised to such an extent that there is no incentive to work hard.

    We have atomised society, pushed rights without responsibility and disempowered adults to tell off kids not their own. What has resulted are cohorts of teenagers who look at their likely futures and want none of it, who are under nobody's supervision and who have never had any boundaries drawn for them, let alone enforced.

    Add in societies obsessed with the cult of celebrity where making it big regardless of ability is an obviously realisable aim. Where exactly is the incentive to knuckle down and work hard? When bad behaviour gets you noticed and made much of.

    Seeking a chemical anaesthesia, like they see their elders do, thus becomes a rational response to a world that offers them few palatable choices. Sure they can go to university, load themselves up with huge debts then either be unemployed or in sink casualised jobs that pay barely above the minimum wage. You can tell that university is no longer a guarantee of a good income by govts in many places seeking to lower the income level at which student loans become repayable.

    Those of us who had some certainties, who were rewarded for hard work but encouraged to co-operate and compete in a friendly manner and who were funded at university had it good. Is it any wonder we didn't behave like so many of our kids? Mind you I remember a younger kid at school who went into the boy's toilets one break time and skulled a whole bottle of vodka he had pinched from home. This was back in '82.

    So alcohol and sexual behaviour are symptoms of a wider malaise and we will not be able to counter them in isolation.

    One question: why aren't those teenagers motivated to do something more constructive?

    Dundee, Scotland • Since May 2007 • 425 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    Ban alco-pop.

    Actually I'd probably just tax the hell out of sugar that way you'd hit both alcho-pop and carbonated sugar water drinks as well as a whole slew of really shitty "foods" with incredibly high levels of sugar.

    Most kids don't really like alcohol drinks unless they are sweet and you nail some of the worst offenders with respect to obesity and diabetes.

    Make the tax only kick in when you went over a threshold of sugar x% by weight and make sure you define sugar to include all the fruit and grain sugars.

    Treat it the same way you treat tobacco and alcohol taxes - essentially as a tax on products that result in extra stress on the health system.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3472 posts Report Reply

  • recordari,

    One question: why aren't those teenagers motivated to do something more constructive?

    I think if you use the words/terms 'teenagers', 'motivated' and 'more constructive' in one sentence, it should be self-evident.

    And the next question might be, like what? Personally I'm hoping to keep my three on the sporty track, to justify introducing random alcohol and drug testing as a part of daily life.

    "If you want to go to the Olympics/World Cup, you'll just have to get used to it."
    "But daaaaaad!"
    "Quit your whining, and go pee in the cup!"

    AUCKLAND • Since Dec 2009 • 2607 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    tax the hell out of sugar that way you'd hit both alcho-pop and carbonated sugar water drinks as well as a whole slew of really shitty "foods" with incredibly high levels of sugar.

    Very smart idea

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16996 posts Report Reply

  • DeepRed,

    Peter A:

    One question: why aren't those teenagers motivated to do something more constructive?

    From Paul Graham's "Why Nerds Are Unpopular":

    "I'm suspicious of this theory that thirteen-year-old kids are intrinsically messed up. If it's physiological, it should be universal. Are Mongol nomads all nihilists at thirteen? I've read a lot of history, and I have not seen a single reference to this supposedly universal fact before the twentieth century. Teenage apprentices in the Renaissance seem to have been cheerful and eager. They got in fights and played tricks on one another of course (Michelangelo had his nose broken by a bully), but they weren't crazy.

    As far as I can tell, the concept of the hormone-crazed teenager is coeval with suburbia. I don't think this is a coincidence. I think teenagers are driven crazy by the life they're made to lead. Teenage apprentices in the Renaissance were working dogs. Teenagers now are neurotic lapdogs. Their craziness is the craziness of the idle everywhere."

    ...


    "Teenage kids used to have a more active role in society. In pre-industrial times, they were all apprentices of one sort or another, whether in shops or on farms or even on warships. They weren't left to create their own societies. They were junior members of adult societies.

    Teenagers seem to have respected adults more then, because the adults were the visible experts in the skills they were trying to learn. Now most kids have little idea what their parents do in their distant offices, and see no connection (indeed, there is precious little) between schoolwork and the work they'll do as adults.

    And if teenagers respected adults more, adults also had more use for teenagers. After a couple years' training, an apprentice could be a real help. Even the newest apprentice could be made to carry messages or sweep the workshop.

    Now adults have no immediate use for teenagers. They would be in the way in an office. So they drop them off at school on their way to work, much as they might drop the dog off at a kennel if they were going away for the weekend.

    What happened? We're up against a hard one here. The cause of this problem is the same as the cause of so many present ills: specialization. As jobs become more specialized, we have to train longer for them. Kids in pre-industrial times started working at about 14 at the latest; kids on farms, where most people lived, began far earlier. Now kids who go to college don't start working full-time till 21 or 22. With some degrees, like MDs and PhDs, you may not finish your training till 30.

    Teenagers now are useless, except as cheap labor in industries like fast food, which evolved to exploit precisely this fact. In almost any other kind of work, they'd be a net loss. But they're also too young to be left unsupervised. Someone has to watch over them, and the most efficient way to do this is to collect them together in one place. Then a few adults can watch all of them."

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 4431 posts Report Reply

  • dyan campbell,

    Oral STDs are indeed a problem, but nowhere near as much as teenage pregnancy, especially with genital STDs. So in terms of harm reduction it is a lesser of two evils. The kids are trying to be careful after all. So getting all down on oral sex is likely to backfire in bad ways.

    Peter I'm not making any judgement at all about oral sex - as someone who worked with male prostitutes a generation ago when GRID (later known as AIDS) hit the headlines I am interested in pathogens and how they affect human health. What I'm getting at is the massive shift in sexual behaviour that is resulting in much higher rates of oral STDs. In all developed countries. What changed?

    There may be shifts in cultural norms and behaviour but I seriously doubt that suddenly girls like blowing boys many times more than they did a generation ago. What is changing the behaviour is not clear, but I really don't think this reflects sexual desire. Certainly there has been no corresponding rise in oral-vaginal sex, which indicates to me that it has less to do with sexual desire than cultural norms.

    As there are new epidemics and patterns within epidemics emerging it's prudent to follow any changes in sexual behaviour and to revise advice given. While oral-genital sex is certainly safer than genital-genital or genital-anal sex, there are ever increasing risks and these need to be made commonly known. A generation ago it was believed venereal disease (most infectious disease period) was conquered. We have seen in the past 20 years how very wrong that assumption was.

    As for the age reduction. When I was a first year uni student back in '84, being 18 didn't stop us going to the pub. It made buying booze to take to the beach much harder.

    The danger of alcohol sales to 18 year olds is not to the 18 year olds per se, but to their younger peers. A 20 year old is not likely to supply alcohol to a younger teen - an 18 year old is.

    Seeking a chemical anaesthesia, like they see their elders do, thus becomes a rational response to a world that offers them few palatable choices.

    I think it's normal and human to want to experience some form of impairment. "Doors of Perception" Aldous Huxley wrote. I"'m too much with myself, I wanna be someone else" sang the Lemonheads. "Just a couple fingers of scotch to take the edge off... before I come to school." explained my high-school boyfriend, when I complained he tasted of alcohol as much as toothpaste when he greeted me at school 35 years ago. Not that he didn't have his reasons - and I literally never saw him even remotely impaired. But my point is that yes, since time immemorial people have wanted to alter their perceptions.

    The difference now is the dose children are ingesting. It's one thing to drink until you're drunk and you recover. It's quite another thing to drink so much you will die if you don't have medical attention - and the latter is becoming much more common.

    There seems to have been a sharp rise in both how fucked up a kid wants to get on alcohol, and how fast they think should ingest the stuff.

    I think trend is being driven by alcohol marketing. As Gio pointed out, it comes from mainstream society - the alcohol industry - but it is being marketed as an "antisocial" or "outlaw" behaviour.

    I see a parallel in the way we are forever being told that today's teens are the most media savvy and least susceptible to advertising, but at the same time they are the most product conscious and brand loyal generation ever. Either they are the least susceptible to advertising or they are the most brand loyal - but not at the same time - the two things are mutually exclusive. I think being told they're "media savvy" is just another marketing tool being used on teenagers. "You're so sophisticated and media savvy you'll only buy our product.

    So alcohol and sexual behaviour are symptoms of a wider malaise and we will not be able to counter them in isolation.

    Peter, I heartily agree except I don't think the malaise is affecting only young people - I do think the ill effects only show up more quickly dramatically there. We expect alcohol induced liver failure in older people... eventually... - but when it's seen in those very young, apropos of a single drinking binge episode, we notice.

    One question: why aren't those teenagers motivated to do something more constructive?

    I don't think teenagers are any less motivated than they were in previous generations. I do think they are less connected to live human beings than they once were - the number of face-to-face hours with other people must be miniscule compared to previous generations.

    And I think the restrictions on childhood must be suffocating - that Prof Winston guy - don't know how reliable his stats are - is quoted as saying the average 8 year old a generation ago ranged 8 km from home unaccompanied by an a adult - it's now 50 metres. If that's true I can see how it could drive anyone to substance abuse and random sex once they were old enough to try either.

    auckland • Since Dec 2006 • 595 posts Report Reply

  • Islander,

    One of the really neat things about my whanau (wide family group) is that knowledgable adults have been/are always willing to share skills & time with younger members. It's the job innit? And I figure the current young members of the whanau will take this aboard, and do the same, when they are adults.

    But - if you arnt from a whanau like this, and -especially- if you are not given the chance & trust to explore your own environments (be they city or country) then - a kid/teenager is just going to get out there and absorb every stimulus they can.

    The worrying trend I note is not vomitting or perceived sexual activity, but almost ritualised (recorded & posted etc.) fighting & bashing-

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    ritualised (recorded & posted etc.) fighting & bashing

    quite

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16996 posts Report Reply

  • Peter Ashby,

    8km? that's a bit tame. I was ranging further than that in Dunedin in the mid '70s, both on my feet and on my bike. I would disappear all day to go fishing down the docks for eg. Where there were always other kids, of all ages, doing it too.

    That is what has changed. A child out in the world alone sticks out like a sore thumb now and they are more at risk because there is not that army of other kids and their eyes and ears also around. oh and we always had three 2c pieces for the phone box. Or you rounded up a few returnable bottles for it.

    Dundee, Scotland • Since May 2007 • 425 posts Report Reply

  • Christopher Dempsey,

    Revealing take on alcohol as a drug by Dimpost.

    Parnell / Tamaki-Auckland… • Since Sep 2008 • 642 posts Report Reply

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