Monday, April 11, 2005

President's Column - Sermon on the Hill

I’m sure most of you have your favourate drunken story. A time when you have drunk so much that you have lost all comprehension of what you are doing. A time when you lost all inhabitations and acted in a way that was completely out of character. A time when you may have even put your life, or maybe someone else’s, at risk.

My personal favourate was before I moved to Wellington, and was attending a 21st at a bar on the Auckland waterfront. Someone thought it would be a great idea to buy a bottle of Bacardi for the ferry trip from Devonport. Of course, I drank more than my fair share and ended up passing out during the speeches. I was dragged out of the bar by the bouncer, apparently putting up little resistance. Obviously not in my best frame of mind, I decided that I would try and sleep it off, so lay down underneath KZ-7, and fell asleep. In the rain. I was woken up shortly after by some friends and two members of the local constabulary, and bundled into a taxi home – all before about 9:30pm.

I have certainly learnt my lesson, and haven’t touched Bacardi since. Even the smell of it make me sick (this made 18 months working behind the bar at the Backbencher difficult).

I was lucky that night. Most of my friends looked after me, and I know I have returned the favour for many of them. I have bundled drunken friends into taxis, hidden friend’s car keys, and cleaned up several ill-timed vomits in the early hours of the morning.

Some people, unfortunately, aren’t so lucky. Many people are left to fend for themselves, often ending up passed out on the side of the road, behind the wheel of a car, or doing something equally regrettable and damaging.

Last year the Alcohol Advisory Council of New Zealand (ALAC) released a report on student drinking habits. The report concluded that:

“University life may actually promote drinking among students. Drinking has been described as intrinsic to the student culture and more defining feature of tertiary study academic work itself.”

Alright, hands up whose surprised? I certainly wasn’t. I don’t think anything has really changed from when my parents were university aged (neither my father or mother attended university, as such, but you catch my drift). Maybe slightly more students drink because the drinking age have since been lowered, but, to be honest, I found it more difficult to buy alcohol legally as an 18 year old, than I did illegally as a 17 year old.

However, it is a different story with a report released this year regarding the drinking patterns of New Zealand. As you have probably seen from the television advertisements, drinking in New Zealand is a major problem. You may think the advertisements are almost as lame at the Victoria University “Makes You Think” ads, but how many of you have thought “shit, I’ve been in that situation. I know what that feels like”.

According to the later ALAC study, “450,000 of us were binge drinking on our last drinking occasion”. That’s the population of the Wellington Region (that’s everyone between Island Bay and Paikakariki). This costs between $1 billion and $4 billion worth of harm. This costs the public health sector $655 million. This costs $1.17 billion in lost productivity. That’s real figures.

ALAC is not proclaiming that everyone stop drinking and preach “any tub-thumping evangelism about the evils of drink or the perils of getting drunk”. It simply asks that people own up to their drinking habits and take responsibility. To watch out for their friends, and keep them out of harms way. To not drink so much that they don’t remember what happened the next day.

Next Wednesday night, I will be joining the Mayor, and members of the University Management on a “Tertiary Alcohol Trek”, organized by the Hutt Valley District Health Board. This will start at midnight, and head down the paths that students take to and from town. We will be trying to highlight areas which could be harmful for students who are drunk.

We don’t want to frighten you out of having a good time. We simply want to make it safer for you to have a good time.

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