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Saturday, 28 February 2015

What if a teen arrives drunk to a party you are hosting? What should you do and do you have a duty of care?

I have had this query for a couple of weeks now and have been trying desperately to find someone who can give me some quality advice - unfortunately I keep meeting brick walls! It doesn't matter who I talk to, I just can't seem to get a straight answer of how best to deal with an issue that Australian parents are facing every weekend.

Recently I received the following email from a mother who had approached me the previous evening with her husband after one of my talks. At the time she told me about their experience with a teenage party and wanted my thoughts on the matter. I asked her to put it into an email so that I could follow it up (sorry about the length but it was difficult to edit) ...

Late last year we decided to host a 'gathering' at our home for our son's 15th birthday. We had attended one of your presentations before and were well aware of how important it was to set clear rules and boundaries around alcohol if we wanted the night to go off without too many problems. It was an invitation-only event and we restricted numbers to 40 (I must admit we buckled to pressure here - we originally said 20 but finally gave in and lifted the number. We did stand firm on no 'plus-ones' though). My brother-in-law is a part-time security guard and we asked him and one of his mates to help us with supervising the night, as well as dealing with any gatecrashers and the like. For the most part the night ran reasonably smoothly - there was certainly alcohol consumed, although I have no idea how they got it into the house as we searched bags, etc. (we didn't find the empty bottles until morning) - but most of the kids were well behaved and seemed to have a great time.
It was not what happened at the party that was the problem, it was the state that some of the young people (mostly young women) arrived at the event that was so worrying. In the first hour we had three girls (all 14 years-old) who arrived in a cab so drunk that they were unable to walk. The taxi driver knocked on our door and told us that he had agreed to pick them up because he had seen them rolling around on the side of the road and was worried about their safety - he had a daughter of his own and was worried about them (a lovely man who didn't even want the fare paid - can you imagine what could have happened to them if he hadn't been there?). Throughout the night we had others, mainly girls, who knocked at our door not quite as drunk as those three, but still very much worse for wear.
Our question is how should we have dealt with this situation? All of them were extremely difficult to deal with (most would not give us their parents' numbers and the terrible trio were screaming blue murder when my brother-in-law tried to stop them leaving the party when we told them that they couldn't go in with the others) and what concerned us most was our duty-of-care. Were we liable if something happened to these girls if they wandered off into the night?

As I've said, I have tried to get some answers from both the police and lawyers on this issue and neither were really able to help me. The whole issue of teenage parties and alcohol is one that is extremely difficult to deal with from a legal perspective. We now have most jurisdictions with secondary supply laws (preventing adults from supplying alcohol to minors, without explicit permission from their parents) but even these are difficult to police (don't get me wrong, we need these - they may be hard to police but they give parents an 'out', i.e., "I can't give you alcohol to take to a party, it's illegal"). When you add trying to ensure that partygoers don't leave your event too intoxicated, dealing with drunk teens arriving at your home and how best to appropriately manage teens under your care if you (or others) shut the party down early and they spill onto the street, you have a potential minefield!

'Pre-parties' are now an integral part of many teens' Saturday night (why any parent in their right mind would ever host one of these or even let them occur at their home is beyond me!) and when they're really young (as with these 14 year-olds) you can bet the 'pre' was held in a park or at someone's house where the parents were out. Getting 'juiced-up' before a party has been around for a long time (parents continue to tell me that they did it to some extent in their teens) but it certainly seems like they're getting younger and the level of intoxication (at least for some of them) has increased dramatically. It really is no surprise that so many parents are simply refusing to host parties when they have to deal with such frightening and dangerous behaviour.

If and when I finally do get an answer to the question of 'duty of care' I will be sure to let everyone know. Regardless of the law, I'm sure there isn't a parent around who doesn't want to make sure that every teen who arrives at their house, no matter what state they're in, is kept as safe as possible. It mightn't necessarily be your legal responsibility but most parents couldn't live with themselves if something happened to a drunk teen they sent away from their home without at least trying to do something. Until I do get some quality legal advice on the topic, however, here are a couple of suggestions on how to reduce the risk of having a child arrive drunk at a party, or what to do should it occur:
  • Ensure it is an 'invitation-only' event and make it clear on the invitation (yes, design an actual invitation!) that anyone who has been drinking will not be admitted. Make it clear that bags will be searched and all invitees will be met at the door and checked
  • As well as an invitee list, insist on RSVPs, which must include a mobile phone number of a parent. This can be extremely difficult to negotiate with your teen (particularly as they get older) - I guarantee they will see it as the most embarrassing thing ever - but realistically it's the best way to ensure that if anyone arrives at the party in a state you feel uncomfortable with, you have a number to call to insist they come and deal with the situation. Unfortunately you will not always get the response you would think, with some parents simply suggesting that you put their child into a taxi and send them home as they are too busy to deal with it, or blame you for the state their teen is in
  • Designate a 'safe space' where anyone who arrives drunk can be put while they sober up - the one thing you do not want is for a heavily intoxicated teen to leave your house after being refused entry and then be hit by a car, sexually assaulted or collapse and choke to death. Having a space, away from the other partygoers, where they can sit and be monitored until they are feeling a little better can give you a little more peace of mind that they are a little safer
  • Always ensure you have both at least one male and one female greeting guests (you can call them 'security' if you want) - drunk teens, like adults, can be extremely difficult to deal with. An adult male trying to deal with a drunk 15 year-old girl could find himself in a great deal of trouble, particularly if he tries to restrain her in some way. To be on the safe side, adult females should always try to deal with young women who are causing trouble. Of course, if they become too problematic the men can assist, but whenever possible stick to females looking after females
My final comment on this will not come as any surprise to anyone who has seen me present or have read anything I have ever written- where were the parents of these 14 year-old girls? I would be very surprised (but to be completely honest, nothing surprises me anymore!) if they knew their little darlings rolled up to a 15th birthday party in a taxi and were unable to walk because they were so drunk. You can bet that their daughters had told them that they were at a 'sleepover' or the like and that they would be home sometime on Sunday afternoon and that they would text them at an appropriate time to let them know that they were safe ... and they believed them! As I keep saying to parents, if you're child tells you that they're going to be somewhere - check! Of course they're not going to want you to do that and they're most probably going to hate you for it - but that's your job!

Always remember, if you want to prevent or, at the very least, delay drinking and illicit drug use, just follow the three golden rules:
  • know where your child is
  • know who they're with, and
  • know when they'll be home

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Should I take my child to a drug treatment centre to show them the reality of drugs? Do shock tactics work?

Over the last couple of weeks I have received a couple of emails asking my opinion about the effectiveness of taking their child to a drug treatment centre in an effort to try to deter their child from possible drug use in the future (some of the parents who contacted me said that they had heard John Laws mention the idea in relation to 'ice' on his radio show recently which seems to have stirred the pot a little!). Here is one of those emails, slightly edited to ensure anonymity:

Hi Paul, my name is Susan and I have 3 children aged 3, 13 and 14 and work in the health area. I am concerned about what I'm hearing in the media re: the ice epidemic. I was listening to the radio the other day and I heard a suggestion that I think would be good to help deter kids from taking drugs. I would like to know what your thoughts were on this. The announcer said to take your kids to a drug rehabilitation centre to see what goes on there. Could you give me some advice on this?

The idea of attempting to show a child the 'reality' of drug use by taking them to a treatment facility is not a new one. In the US they even have a TV reality show where high-risk young people are taken to prison and shown just what their future could hold if they keep going down a dangerous path, most often related to drug use of some description. One of the most highly publicized examples of this 'strategy' was when Prince Harry admitted to getting drunk and experimenting with cannabis when he was much younger. His confession received a great deal of media coverage, but it was his father’s response that received much praise from more conservative commentators, suggesting that he was considering taking his son to a rehabilitation centre to talk to 'addicts' in an attempt to make him see the errors of his ways.

Before I talk specifically about so-called 'shock tactics', let's clear up some myths about treatment centres and what you're going to see when you go to one! Firstly, most of the centres I have ever visited don't have 'zombie-like' creatures walking the halls and people screaming with pain due to withdrawal in locked rooms ... they're not terribly scary places. Of course there are people who are going through an extremely difficult time but for the most part these facilities try to be places where their patients feel safe and where they are going to be looked after - they're not terrifying prisons! Some of the patients certainly have a range of health and social problems and some certainly look extremely unwell, but there are also many others who look just like the average person on the street and it's not until you talk to them that you realize the issues they may be having ... walking your teen through a centre and hoping that what they are going to see will swear them off drugs for life is not necessarily going to happen!

I couldn't tell you how many times I've been contacted by parents who want to know my views on this issue. They had either recently discovered that their child had used a drug (usually cannabis) and wanted to know whether I knew of a treatment centre that would allow them to visit and take their teen to 'scare the pants off them', or, like Susan, were just concerned about media stories about escalating drug use and felt like they needed to do something to protect their kids! This is what is known as 'shock tactics' - the idea of presenting a young person with a terrible story, horrific image or getting them to listen to someone (usually an ex-drug user) who has been through an awful situation in an effort to discourage them from particular behaviour. As far as drugs are concerned, the strategy usually highlights images of needles and syringes and injecting and infers that this is 'where all drug users end up' ...

So what do we know about the effectiveness of 'shock tactics'?

Those who have had little to do with drugs often regard it as the perfect solution to a difficult problem.  To them, this makes great sense - ex-drug users tell their personal stories and how their substance use caused them great problems, the young people will see the obvious harm that occurred and as a result the drug taking will stop.  Many involved with the drug culture, however, see this response as a waste of time – believing that shock tactics like these rarely have an effect on a young person who is likely to be enjoying, or at least getting some perceived 'positive benefits', from their drug of choice at that point in time.

So what does the research say about shock tactics and do they have a place in educating drug users in our community?

Shock tactics encompass a variety of different techniques.  Many will remember a police officer coming into your school and showing you pictures of terrible car accidents in an effort to prevent speeding and/or drinking and driving.  Photographs of diseased lungs and other body parts were often used in health lessons to dissuade young people from smoking.  One of my earliest memories of health education was a young man being brought into our classroom who had had cancer caused by smoking.  He had lost his voice box and was forced to talk through a machine held against his throat.

Yes, these images shock and horrify– but do they really stop young people from partaking in the risk-taking behaviour?

Young people process information very differently to adults - no matter what we tell them and how well we do it, they simply don't believe that 'it is never going to happen to them'.  Remember, they are missing the part of the brain that deals with reasoned thinking and judgement, and as a result every decision is made using the emotional part of their brain. This results in their decisions not necessarily being rational or practical - they are based on one simple premise - 'if it feels good, I'll do it!' No matter what you tell them, no matter how good the information is, no matter how shocking the image – for many, their behaviour will not change unless something happens to them directly (and even then I have seen cases where even the drug-related deaths of close friends has not made any difference).  The number of people who have come up to me and told me their own personal drug story is amazing.  The start of the conversation is nearly always the same – "I’d read all the information but I never believed it would happen to me …."

I think the main reason that parents believe scare tactics could be an option is due to the fact that they believe this strategy worked for them. The problem is, even if it did work for you, it may not necessarily have the same effect on your child.

Certainly young people can be moved by stories of terrible hardship and death, particularly when delivered by a person who is close to their age and a talented speaker, but does this necessarily lead to a change in behaviour? On the limited research there is in this area, the evidence says that for those young people who were not interested in using drugs, this strategy works well - reinforcing everything they already believe. However, for those who are already using drugs, they look at the speaker talking about their problems and simply reject their story, believing that it was a 'personal weakness' that led to the substance issues and that it would not happen to them.

Susan's children are quite young and I firmly believe that a visit to a treatment centre to try to prevent future drug use makes little or no sense at this time. Even getting them to talk to a person who has had, or is experiencing a drug problem, is most probably not appropriate at this time (unless maybe it is a family member or a close family friend and the conversation comes naturally and is not forced). I know it sometimes seems like you're not doing enough and the media keeps on telling you about a scary world, but the best way for a parent to prevent alcohol and other drug use is to simply keep connected, talk to your child and remember the three golden rules:
  • know where your child is
  • know who they're with, and
  • know when they'll be home

Shock tactics certainly have a place in public health education (and maybe even in parenting if used sparingly and at the right time in the right way!).  They obviously work in preventing some people from taking part in risky behaviour.  The question needs to be asked though – would those people have ever become involved in that activity in the first place?

Saturday, 14 February 2015

What does 'supervising a teenage party' really mean?

Deciding whether or not to allow your teen to attend a teenage party is something that almost every parent will have to deal with at some time or another. I believe that you should never let your child go anywhere unless you have done your homework and found out as much as you can about where it is that they want to go. If it's a party or gathering, some of the most important questions you should be asking are around supervision. Apart from finding out about whether alcohol will be available or tolerated when you call the parents putting on the event, questions should include "Will you be there for the evening?" and "Will you be supervising?" You would think that when you asked these questions of other parents and got a "Yes" in response that your child would actually be supervised in some way - well, surprise, surprise - that's not always the case!

I had a wonderful email from a mum this week who told me about her experience around supervision at a teenage party - I thought I would share an edited version with you ....

I always call people whose home she is going to stay at, call before parties, drop-off and pick-up etc and I am constantly alarmed at how many parents don't do that. However I just want to tell you about a recent party she went to. This was a girl I didnt know well and I had never met the parents. I said she could go providing I spoke with the parents first. I called and spoke with the mother - she sounded very nice, told me that her and her husband would be home, that it was a small gathering of just a few kids from school, there'd be no alcohol and she was glad I'd called as her daughter told her that she was the only one that ever did that. Okay, good - I felt a bit better about her going. My husband and I dropped her off and went in to meet the parents as they were sitting out on the front verandah of the house. When we picked her up later that night from the party I asked how it was. She told us there was someone there with a bottle of vodka, some others smoking dope and a bunch of uninvited guests came in over the back fence!! I asked where the parents were when this was going on. They, apparently were sitting on the front verandah making sure there were no gatecrashers!

What was particularly wonderful about this story was the girl's response to her mother's concerns about what had happened ...

"Don't worry, mum" my daughter said, "Me and my friends sat in the sober circle. And we made sure we only drank soft drink from bottles that hadn't been opened yet." I was grateful that she managed the situation well but I was so pissed off the parents didn't supervise!

Holding a party for teenagers, whether it be at your home or somewhere you have hired for the evening, is a huge responsibility. Although the thought of it may be terrifying, it is important to remember that holding a party can also be a great opportunity for you to strengthen your relationship with your child, get to know their friends and become more involved in their life. At the same time, you are providing an environment for a group of young people to get together and have a good time. Things can go terribly wrong, even when alcohol or other drugs are not involved. As such, if you decide to put on a party for your teen you need to think carefully about all the possible risks and put things into place to make sure that the party is as safe as possible – for the people coming to the party, your neighbours and of course, you and your family. Most importantly, you have to supervise!

Let's make it really simple here - supervision is not:
  • simply being at home - you and your partner in the lounge room and the teens out the back
  • having a couple of adult friends over to assist with potential gatecrashers - and while they're there, well you all may as well have a couple of drinks in the kitchen
  • asking your older children to make sure they're at home to mingle with the partygoers - they're closer to the kids' ages and they'll have a better idea of what to look for and will be able to respond more appropriately than some 'fuddy-duddy' parents
  • hiring a security company to deal with alcohol and gatecrasher issues - that way, you're covered and you can go out and have dinner and a few drinks and no problems
  • partying with the teens - your son or daughter is your best friend and why miss out on a good time?
Now I know that some of these seem a little extreme (who would honestly hire a security firm and then go out leaving over 100 Year 10s partying in their home? It happens, believe you me!), but I have emails from parents describing all of these types of parties, plus so many more, many of which do not bear thinking about!
When you consider supervision at a teenage party try to think of it a little like playground duty at a school. Sounds very formal but hear me out ... There is no way that a school can let a group of young people, even teenagers, come together and not supervise them in some way. Teachers need to be on the look-out for problems and issues but at the same time not interfere with the important socialising that is taking place. Playground duty is not about teachers meddling in the students' appropriate interactions with each other - no teacher should want to be a teen's best friend. You certainly should never see a teacher sit down with teens and start gossiping about who is dating who, but it can be a time where teachers are able to have different type of conversations than they do in the classroom and build up positive and appropriate relationships as they're walking around the school yard, at the same always being on the look-out for trouble. Teenage parties offer the same opportunities to parents hosting these events.
So what is supervision?
  • being there, right in the thick of it - this doesn't mean you plonk yourself in the middle of a group of teens and just stand there! Think of yourself like a teacher on playground duty - walk around, smile and be on the look-out for problems. Find reasons for being there - carry food around, make sure they have a drink (non-alcoholic of course!) ... Always consider your teen here as well - do this in an oppressive way and he or she will be mortified and rightly so. It can be a very fine line between 'being there' and 'lurking' - try not to cross it!
  • move around - teens aren't stupid, if they want to break the rules they're highly likely to find a place where they are going to be able to do so without being caught. Most probably the biggest mistake parents make in this area is to position themselves in one place, justifying their decision by stating that the kids will know where to find them if something goes wrong. Sitting in the kitchen or the lounge room while the kids are in another area of the house is not supervising - get off your bum and find all those nooks and crannies around the house that you remember from your teenage years!
  • make sure you have help that you can trust who have the same values as you - if you are going to enlist helpers, make sure you know they will support your rules. I've been contacted by a number of parents over the years who were devastated when friends they asked to supervise secretly provided alcohol to teens to try to be cool, or simply turned a blind eye to drinking. Having like-minded helpers will make your life much easier
  • try to be at the front door when the guest arrive - meet the teens and their parents - one of the keys to good supervision is knowing who exactly is coming into your house. Watching them enter (meeting their parents if they turn up), monitoring what they bring in with them and saying a few words of welcome is going to be helpful later if something goes amiss. They now know who you are (if they didn't before) and you have a better idea of who they are
  • talk to the partygoers - the best way to know what is going on at the party is to talk to as many teens as possible. This should not be intrusive and don't try to be cool - kids can see through that in seconds! Be yourself - ask them how they're going, if they're having a good time and the like. Not only does this help you to get to know your child's friends a little better but it also helps you gauge how the party is going and identify signs of intoxication nice and early ...
As I always say, there is no handbook on how to be the perfect parent, you can only do the best you can do at the time. The same is true when it comes to holding an incident-free teenage party. Without doubt the best thing you can do to reduce risk is to make the event alcohol-free. Regardless of whether there is alcohol or not, however, adequate supervision is vital. Always remember that even if you ask questions around supervision when you call parents who are hosting a party - their definition of supervision may be very different to yours! 

Saturday, 7 February 2015

"Your talk made my parents paranoid ...": A different type of 'hate mail' from a young person

Receiving 'hate mail' from young people really devastates me - I don't cope well! It has only happened a couple of times over the last 20 years and usually has to do with the information I give to Year 12 students about 'Schoolies'. That seems to be a really touchy subject and no matter how much I tell them that the warnings I give them about what may happen when they get to wherever they are going won't happen to everyone - they are potential risks - I have received particularly nasty feedback from a small number of young people after the event (always young men!) to let me know that what I said did not happen and that everything I told them was wrong. They usually finish off by saying I am terrible at my job and they are going to tell their school never to use me again (I'm putting that as politely as I can - sometimes there's a lot of name calling and swearing involved!). There have also been one or two occasions where a student writes to me to tell me that I have completely ruined their life (i.e., their parent attended my presentation and started to actually parent them!) and they let me have it - all guns blazing! They are frustrated and angry and they decide to take it out on me - they are aggressive and incredibly rude, calling me all the names under the sun and making it all very personal. I make sure that I write back to everyone - no matter how rude they may be - firstly making it clear to them that being rude will get them nowhere and really only illustrates how immature they are and then try to respond to their concerns the best I can ...

Late last night I received an email from a young woman who wanted to let me know that my presentation to parents had adversely affected her life but the way she conveyed her concerns was very different to any email I had ever received before. This is what she wrote, word for word:

Hi Mr Dillon,
I would just like to say that although I'm sure you do know what you are talking about and that you have seen the worst and that you have good intentions you really have changed my life a lot.
My parents have always been pretty strict and after going to your talk you have made them paranoid, they think that I do drugs or something and I would never do drugs. Yeah I have drunken before but I never get hammered to the point of danger. They won't let me go out to parties anymore and they call me up about every hour when I am out. Maybe you could consider at your talks also saying that there are teenagers out there who can drink without going overboard and who are actually trustworthy.

I'm not going to write a lot about this, instead I thought I'd simply show you the email I sent back to her. Before I do I need to make it clear that I have no idea how old this young lady is, what school she goes to or anything else about her. She did sign the email with her name and did not try to send the message anonymously which is what some young people do, but I have no idea whether there are other issues that led to her parents stopping her going to parties (if indeed they did), maybe there was an incident and that's why they came to my Parent Information Evening, who knows? That said, I believe this email shows great maturity, whatever her age. She is extremely respectful, even though obviously upset about how she believed my talk had adversely affected her, sending a message that conveys her concerns in a very adult way and I could not let that pass. Here is my response (I have edited it slightly):

First of all, thanks so much for writing to me about your concerns and being so polite when discussing your situation – it would have been so easy for you to have been rude and this email is certainly not that!
I hope you understand (and it certainly seems like you do) that it is not my intention to 'ruin your life'. My talk to parents actually makes it very clear to parents that the majority of young people either choose not to drink or drink as responsibly as possible … if you've heard me speak then you would have seen me present exactly the same figures that I show them. Most young people don't take drugs and lots of young people do the right thing around alcohol … As you said in your email – I have 'seen the worst' which I tell parents about, but I also have seen the best and I tell them that too – there really are lots of wonderful kids out there! I also say very clearly that I believe young people should be able to go to teenage parties, as long as parents know what the event is going to be like and they believe it will be as safe as possible … is there a reason your parents think the parties you want to go to are not safe?
You haven't said how old you are but the way you have written this email, outlining your concerns but not being rude in any way, really shows me that you are quite mature – I really respect that! It would have been so easy for you just to write me a piece of 'hate mail' – you certainly didn't do that!
I'm sure your parents are doing what they're doing because they love you and they want you to be as safe as possible but I think you should show them the email you sent me and this response so that they can clearly see what your concerns are … maybe after you do that they may 'meet you in the middle' to some degree and you can both compromise a little and work out some way to ensure that they still feel you are safe and that you can still have a good time with your friends but not put yourself at risk … Sometimes talking to each other (and not getting angry!) can move mountains …
Once again, thanks for the email and for being so respectful – I'm sorry you believe that my talk has affected your life adversely. I hope if you take the time to sit down with your parents and show them this email you may be able to find a way of moving forward and finding a compromise that may make you a little happier!
All the best
I don't know about you but I would be so proud of my daughter if I found out that she had written an email like this - it would have been so easy for her to lash out and abuse me but instead she had thought it through carefully (she must have been brewing about this for some time - my last parent session was last November - this isn't something that happened this week!), acknowledging my experiences and how they have influenced what I say to parents and then suggesting politely that I consider there is another side to the story. Any parent who has ever heard me speak knows that I most definitely already do that but I am sure that there are mums and dads out there who have resorted to using me as the 'bad guy' and say to their teens "But Paul Dillon said ...!"
I hope she does take her email and my response to her parents and they are able to use it to try to work out a positive way forward. I'm certainly not suggesting that all of a sudden she should get her own way and be able to do and go where she wants, but maybe there could be some type of compromise, from both sides. Having a positive parent-child dialogue is so important - this young woman is obviously unhappy and she believes it is what I said to her parents that has caused that to some degree. That needs to be talked through and I really do believe, based on her email, she is capable of having that conversation - I just hope her parents are too!

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Vodka-infused tampons - just when you think you've been asked everything!

I've been doing this for a long time and one of the most challenging parts of what I do is answering young peoples' questions about 'all things alcohol and other drugs' ... I've been asked so many curly questions over the years, many by those who genuinely want an answer to something they are concerned about, through to those really out-there questions usually asked by someone trying to be as sensational as possible in an attempt to shock others in the room (including me!) and get a quick, cheap laugh! Of course, many of the really difficult and often personal questions are asked by individuals who approach me after my presentation and if these are challenging at least you don't have to consider the rest of the class when you try to deliver an appropriate answer, but it is those that are asked in front of the entire year group that can be the most difficult to deal with. I truly thought I had been asked almost everything and there was very little left that could shock me or put me on the spot in this area - well, boy was I wrong! This week (first week back in 2015 - five schools in three cities across five days!) I was asked twice (not once but two times - at two different schools!) about my thoughts on vodka-infused tampons ...

Now I really shouldn't have been surprised and to be honest I had been expecting questions on this issue a number of years ago when stories about alcohol-infused tampons began to pop-up in the US (a quick search on YouTube and you will find a number of stories that ran in 2012 on the topic). Around that time I was contacted a number of times by a couple of Australian journalists who had seen these stories to ask whether I had seen any evidence of this practice here. I hadn't and after a quick look at the US news stories I worked hard to try and encourage reporters not to cover it as there didn't really appear to be strong evidence that it was actually happening - there were lots of anecdotal reports of health workers and teachers saying they had heard of teens doing it, but no-one could actually find someone who admitted to it. A couple of the more tabloid news outlets in this country did run small stories but luckily it never got a major run and I thought we had successfully killed it!

Now I'm sure that there are some of you who are still dying to know why anyone would use an alcohol-infused tampon ... If you take a look at the stories (there are many of them on the web) you will see that this "new teen craze" (in 2012!) is promoted due to two major 'benefits' - getting drunk faster (the theory being that putting alcohol into contact with the mucous membranes of the vaginal walls will result in faster absorption into the bloodstream) and avoiding detection (if your parent (or police officer) thinks you are drunk and asks you to breathe on them, there will be no alcohol on your breath). An additional supposed benefit according to some of the stories is that this route of administration can also reduce the risk of getting sick after intoxication because it bypasses the stomach.

So is it true? Are young women really using vodka-infused tampons?

When it comes to any of these really out-there so-called trends my first stop is always a great website called It is a great resource that examines some of the rumours that are doing the rounds and tries to find out if there is any truth to them (wouldn't it be great if the media did that when they are putting together a piece on some of these issues?) - it's certainly not perfect but it is a great place to start your search when you are looking for facts and not heresay. Based on the available evidence the website then gives an assessment as to whether they believe the claim is true or false. They looked at the issue back in 2012 and, not surprisingly, decided that it was false. To briefly summarise their problems with the claim, they believed that even a 'super plus' tampon (whatever that is!) would not be able to hold enough vodka for the effect that teens would be after, the discomfort from the experience would likely be greater than any potential benefit and most importantly, it would be extremely difficult to insert a saturated tampon into any orifice! Now this does not mean that no-one has ever done this - certainly there are a couple of documented cases where health workers have treated young women who have attempted to do this - but is it (or was it) a craze that is sweeping the world? Absolutely not!

So why have I had two Year 10 girls ask me about this now? Both girls told me that they had recently heard about it through social media - they had received links to stories on the topic and it had been promoted in exactly the same way that it had been back in 2012 - you could get drunk faster and it was undetectable. Young people (particularly that 'pointy-end' of the market - the real 'risk-takers) are always looking for new ways of getting drunk as fast as possible, whether it be drinking games or whatever (around the same time as girls were supposedly doing strange things with tampons, there was lots of talk about American male college students playing around with 'anal beer bongs' - same principle, different orifice!), and this is what usually gets teens into trouble as far as alcohol poisoning is concerned. If the level of alcohol in your body rises too quickly, the greater the risk of overdose. Drinking slowly over a longer period of time reduces the risk - but that's not what some young people want - it's all about getting drunk as fast as you can.

I've learnt over the past 25 years to be extremely cautious about these so-called "new teen crazes" - without a doubt there will someone somewhere who will be dumb enough to try it, but usually the rest of it is all talk and we have to be careful not to fuel the fire and make it more of an issue than it really is. That said, two 15 year-old girls asking the same bizarre question in the same week indicates that this story is certainly doing the rounds again. As far as parents and those who work with young people are concerned, I believe it's much better to be forewarned and prepared just in case you get asked anything about it or read something about it in one of your daughter's Facebook postings ...

About Me

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Paul Dillon has been working in the area of drug education for the past 25 years. Through his own business, Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia (DARTA) he has been contracted by many organisations to give regular updates on current drug trends. He has also worked with many school communities to ensure that they have access to good quality information and best practice drug education. His book 'Teenagers, Alcohol and Drugs' was released nationally in February 2009. With a broad knowledge of a range of content areas, Paul regularly appears in the media and is regarded as a key social commentator, with interviews on television programs such as Sunrise, TODAY and The Project.