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Leavers Week

Leavers Week and Alcohol

Leavers has become a part of the Year 12 social calendar. It is an exciting time for teenagers as they celebrate completing their schooling, and moving into a new phase of their life.

Leavers is a four day celebratory period that marks the completion of Year 12 and transition into independent adulthood for students in Western Australia. Referred to as Schoolies in other Australian states, such celebratory events have become increasingly popular over time, providing an opportunity for students to celebrate and socialise with their peers1.

Whilst Leavers can be an exciting time for teenagers, they may experience situations they have not been in before. At Leavers there is a good chance that teenagers will find themselves in environments where alcohol is being consumed, despite all official Leavers activities being alcohol-free.

Research indicates many young people attend Leavers expecting to consume excessive amounts of alcohol and engage in other risky behaviours, and do, resulting in alcohol-related harms2,3.

Students attending Leavers are both 17 and 18 years of age. While the National Health and Medical Research Council recommend for young people under 18, not drinking alcohol is the safest choice, they also state that delaying the initiation of drinking is a key factor in limiting alcohol-related harms4. Evidence shows the more alcohol a person drinks, the greater the risk of harm to themselves and others5. Not drinking alcohol is the best way to ensure Leavers celebrations are a positive and memorable experience.

Alcohol use and related harm among teenagers at Leavers

Alcohol use by young people increases the risk of accident and injury, risk-taking behaviour, unsafe sex choices, adverse behavioural patterns and alcohol overdose in the short-term6.

Research conducted by the National Drug Research Institute showed the majority of alcohol-related harms experienced by young people are caused by episodes of drinking to intoxication7.

Research conducted by the Royal Life Saving Society of Western Australia in Dunsborough, WA reported almost 80% of leavers’ who attended official Leavers’ events between 2016 and 2018 reported drinking alcohol. Of those, approximately 65% reported drinking at levels considered risky in the short-term for adults, and 20% reported drinking 10 or more standard drinks on a typical drinking occasion8. This equates to more than eight x 330mL full-strength pre-mix spirit drinks, or 10 x 375mL mid-strength beer cans.

In 2018, half (50%) of all presentations to the Leavers medical area were alcohol-related. Of WA leavers’ who attended celebrations on Rottnest Island in 20099, almost nine in 10 reported at least one negative experience they said was due to alcohol or other drug use. For some leavers, alcohol use has reportedly resulted in10:

  • Blacking out.
  • Unprotected sex or sex they later regretted.
  • Vomiting.
  • Being physically aggressive or having a heated argument.
  • Accident or injury.
  • Being hungover.

Based on their sample of school leavers, a Victorian study found that each alcoholic drink consumed increased the risk of being involved in an aggressive incident by 8%, or being involved in an alcohol-related injury or accident by 5%11.

­Illicit drugs can also be associated with Leavers’ celebrations. For example, of WA leavers surveyed who attended celebrations on Rottnest Island in 2009, one in five (20%) reported using an illicit drug on any celebration day12. In 2018, illicit drugs accounted for almost every one in 10 (9%) presentations to the Leavers medical area, and every one in 15 (6%) was alcohol and other drug related. Get the real facts about illicit drug use and information about staying safe at Leavers at Drug Aware.

For information to assist teenagers in planning the Leavers experience, visit the Planning for Leavers page, or the official WA Leavers website.

For information about how parents can support their teenagers through the Leavers experience, including being informed about the short and long-term effects of alcohol on young people and related laws, visit the Information for Parents page.

The WA Leavers Celebrations Alcohol and Other Drugs Community Kit is also available that provides information for teenagers and their parents about alcohol and other drug use and harm reduction information in preparation for Leavers celebrations.

 
References

1Lam, T., Liang, W., Chikritzhs, T., & Allsop, S. (2013). Alcohol and other drug use at school leavers’ celebrations. Journal of Public Health, 36(3), 408-416.

Pettigrew, S., Biagioni, N., Daube, M., Jones, S., Chikritzhs, T., & Kirby, G. (2017). Understanding and addressing the Schoolies phenomenon. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 39(2), 135-140. P.135

3Lubman, D., Droste, N., Pennay, A., Hyder, S., & Miller, P. (2014). High rates of alcohol consumption and related harm at schoolies week: A portal study. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 38(6), 536-541.

4National Health and Medical Research Council. (2009). Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol. Canberra, ACT: Commonwealth of Australia.

National Health and Medical Research Council. (2009). Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol. Canberra, ACT: Commonwealth of Australia p.59.

6National Health and Medical Research Council. (2009). Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol. Canberra, ACT: Commonwealth of Australia p.59-61.

7Grace, J., Moore, D., & Northcote, J. (2009). Alcohol, risk and harm reduction: Drinking amongst young adults in recreational settings in Perth. Perth, WA: National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University of Technology. Available from: http://ndri.curtin.edu.au/ndri/media/documents/publications/T192.pdf

8Royal Life Saving Society of Western Australia, 2019 unpublished data.

9Lam, T., Liang, W., Chikritzhs, T., & Allsop, S. (2013). Alcohol and other drug use at school leavers’ celebrations. Journal of Public Health, 36(3), 408-416.

10Lam, T., Liang, W., Chikritzhs, T., & Allsop, S. (2013). Alcohol and other drug use at school leavers’ celebrations. Journal of Public Health, 36(3), 408-416.

11Lubman, D., Droste, N., Pennay, A., Hyder, S., & Miller, P. (2014). High rates of alcohol consumption and related harm at schoolies week: A portal study. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 38(6), 536-541.

12Lam, T., Liang, W., Chikritzhs, T., & Allsop, S. (2013). Alcohol and other drug use at school leavers’ celebrations. Journal of Public Health, 36(3), 408-416.

 Page last updated: 15 August  2019 

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