Sunday, 31 May 2015

The importance of simply taking the time to answer a teen's question and the lasting impact it can have

I've been working with young people for over 30 years now and as I always say, it is my passion. I truly love what I do! I often get asked what I think is the most important thing people can do to keep our kids as safe as possible, regardless of whether you're their parent, their teacher or another significant adult in their life ... It's a tough question but when it comes to parenting I have been quoting Laurence Steinberg in my Parent Information Evenings this year when he says:

"The single most important thing parents can do to raise healthy, happy and successful kids is to practice authoritative parenting"

Put really simply, that means establish rules and consequences, stick to them and wrap them all up in a great big parcel of love! Evidence shows that authoritative parenting not only delays, but can in fact prevent, early drinking and illicit drug use. I believe that it is also vital that parents keep talking to their teens and try to maintain an open and honest dialogue about the topic of alcohol and other drugs. For those of us who are not parents, but who are fortunate to have contact with young people, this is an area in which we can really make a difference if we get it right!

I get to speak to tens of thousands of young people every year and, although it isn't always possible, I try to make myself as available to them as possible. They can speak to me after my presentations and ask any questions they may have and they are also encouraged to send me an email if they feel uncomfortable speaking to me face-to-face. As well as receiving emails. it always staggers me how many text messages I get from students asking me questions (goodness knows where they get my mobile number from!), usually very late on Saturday night or in the early hours of Sunday morning (as you can imagine, some of these are really out there!). As many of you know I also have a blog specifically developed for young people ('The Real Deal on Drugs') where they are able to ask me questions they may come up with after I have left the school ...

I recently found out just how important answering a young person's question can be and the lasting impact simply responding can have ... I visited a school and one of the health teachers came up to me while I was having lunch and introduced himself. Apparently he had heard me speak at his school when he was in Year 12 and after the talk had sent through an email to me asking a question. What had apparently made such an impression on him was that I had replied, that the answer I had given him was useful and I had done it quickly ... What really choked me up was when he said that the fact that my response was one of the reasons he became a health teacher! "I still remember how excited I was that you took the time to send me an email back" he told me and he went on to say that he believed that the impact that my taking a little time to respond to his question had on his life at that time was one of the reasons he eventually decided to teach. It was a very special moment!

This morning I searched my computer and found the original email he sent me, as well as the two that followed (it really pays to have a folder called 'Nice Emails'!). I have edited them slightly to remove any identifying information ...

"hi you recently came to our school and gave a talk on alcohol and other drugs. I am currently trying to tell my girlfriend that bread does NOT absorb alcohol. She does not believe me so i am emailing you to prove her wrong:):):) please send me a email saying that bread doesn't absorb alcohol because the effects of alcohol are in the brain and not your stomach.
thanks" 
I then responded with the following:
"Thanks for the email. I would like to assure your girlfriend that bread does not help sober a drunk person up! If you have become drunk it is because the alcohol has reached and affected your brain. No matter how much bread you eat that is not going to reverese that effect. Eating bread whilst drunk can be dangerous. Even at the best of times bread can be difficult to chew and digest - when you're drunk this can prove fatal.
Hope that clears that up!"
I then received this wonderful email (hence why it was to be found in the 'Nice Emails' folder):
"thanks mate... your awesome and your talk was awesome... i like the fact that you cleared up all the myths and talked to us about being able to drink responibly and im really happy that you didnt do one of the 'dont do alcohol' talk.. thanks a lot mate ..."

A simple paragraph that had taken me a couple of minutes, if that, to write had apparently made a huge impact on this young man's life! So what does the research say in this area?

Building young people's so-called 'resilience' is vital and it is most probably best defined as "the inherent and nurtured capacity of individuals to deal with life's stresses in ways that enable them to lead healthy and fulfilled lives." One of the factors that has been identified to enhance resilience in young people is having a warm, positive relationship with an adult, whether he or she be a parent, teacher or whoever. I've talked previously about the impact that an adult simply knowing and using a teen's name can have on their self-esteem and how they see themselves, the same can be said for simply responding to a question they may have. If an adolescent actually regards you highly enough to take the time to ask you a question about something, surely it is worth the energy to doing your best to answer them to the best of your ability. 

We live in a very complex world and we all have very busy lives. It is so easy to brush off young people's questions with a pat answer, or tell them we'll talk to them later, no matter who we are or what our relationship with them may be. What makes it so much more difficult in the alcohol and other drug area is that so many of the questions likely to be asked are not simple and many of them are confronting, but regardless, it is so important that we do our best to take a little time to answer them to the best of our ability. Always remember that for a teen to ask you anything in this area (as with sex and other controversial topics), they must think something of your opinion - you are in a privileged position and it is a valuable opportunity that should not be wasted. You may not always know the answer but simply taking the time to listen to a teen's question in this complex area, making them feel valued and important by an adult even for a moment or two and then responding the best you can (even saying that you don't know the answer but will do your best to find out or "let's find out together") can really make a difference!

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Incredible Aussie teens and our influence on them: Don't ever underestimate it!

This morning I posted a link to an article published this week that busted the myths around "a generation out of control" and a "binge drinking epidemic" apparently running rampant amongst our young people. It highlighted that we are currently seeing Australian teen drinking at the lowest recorded rates since we began collecting data in this area in the early 80s. This appears to be a global trend and the authors went on to give some possible reasons for the shift including the impact of social media and the internet (possibly reducing the importance of drinking in socialising) and an increasing focus on healthy living. I also believe that it could also have to do with parents being better informed about the risks around teen drinking and growing numbers who are trying to do as good a job as they can as far as parenting goes in this area (even there are those who continue to baffle me with their moronic behaviour!) ...

These figures don't surprise me. Everyday I meet young people who are making great choices around alcohol and doing their very best in an alcohol-soaked culture to do what they feel is right for them. As I always say, I don't go into schools to preach abstinence - it would be great if I could speak to a group of Year 10 students (most of whom are 15 years-old) and tell them not to drink alcohol and give them all the reasons why they shouldn't. But realistically for some of them, they are currently drinking, getting a great deal of enjoyment out of it and me telling them not to do it is simply not going to be effective. That said, we should never underestimate the influence we can have ...

Last week I received this email from a student:

Hey Paul,
I was a student at XXX and graduated in 2014 and I feel this may be delayed slightly given that this is almost a year since your talk I would like to say thanks for your seminars.
Before you came and talked I had never really thought about the option to 'not drink' and had always assumed that that's what I would do when I got older and live that lifestyle but after you came in proudly stating that you didn't drink I began to think and have taken the same lifestyle choice. 
Now apart from the fact my wallet has been saved from a great deal of losses I feel I have dodged a bullet and feel a lot greater being the sober friend and have taken to looking after those who aren't as sober.
I really appreciate what you've done thus far and always looked forward to your seminars each year and I hope you continue for years to come as I genuinely think you've made a great impact on the lives of many if not at least you've made an impact on me.
Thought I would pay you this compliment as I understand there must be a lot of negativity with this job and a positive every now and then would benefit you and your cause 
Cheers
P.S. How do you answer the question 'why don't you drink ?' I feel like this comes up way to much and I haven't quite come up with a response that seems to satisfy the asker.
 
If that doesn't make you feel pretty darn special, nothing will! I was blown away ... no matter what a speaker or teacher would have said to me when I was young, I don't think I would have ever taken the time to 'put pen to paper' a year later and thanked them. Our kids are amazing!
 
For those of you who follow me regularly you may remember I wrote a blog entry on a very similar theme last year. A young man approached me after my Year 12 presentation and asked to shake my hand and thank me for almost the very same thing. When I had first presented to his class in Year 10 I had said that I didn't drink and, as a result of what I had said that day, he had decided to follow my example! Wow! As I said then, no-one, particularly parents, should ever underestimate the impact they can have on the choices their child will make ... if a throwaway sentence from a complete stranger (and that's what I was way back in Year 10 to this young man) can make a difference, what can the person who loves them the most in the world do if they really set their mind to it?
 
We are constantly knocking our kids - the media rarely reports the good news and that's sad because there's a lot of it! Of course we have problems, those young people who do drink alcohol regularly tend to drink a lot and are usually spirit drinkers, putting themselves (and others) at great risk. Although we have some of the lowest rates of recent illicit drug use amongst secondary school students that we have ever seen in this country, those that do use drugs are starting at a younger age and often using them in a more dangerous way (e.g., polydrug use). We also have a growing range of substances available (more than 2 new substances per week) and due to the internet, access can be much easier than it was in the past.

That said, we still have so many teens who continue to make healthy choices - we rarely talk about them and it is so important that we do, as often as possible. Reinforcing positive norms (flipping the figures) and talking about that group of teens that the media simply ignores is vital. And you only have to look at the email above to see that even a simple sentence can make the world of difference in a young person's life! Who would have thought?

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Australians and illicit drugs: 'Struggle Street' to celebrity drug use

News.com.au interviewed me last week for a story on celebrity drug use - 'Secret drug habits of the stars: Insiders reveal what celebs get up to when you're not watching' - I'd hate to think how many people read the piece and just lapped it up! Stories about 'famous people' using illicit drugs, getting caught, entering rehab, or them writing a 'tell-all' book about the fact that they used illicit drugs, got caught and then entered rehab are always incredibly popular ... It's certainly not a bad article and does offer an insight into celebrity drug culture, which in reality reflects how many Australian adults use illicit drugs (i.e., they use to socialize, usually on special occasions and there is no other crime associated with their use).

This story comes at the same time as the final episode of SBS's 'Struggle Street' was aired. This controversial documentary, following the poor and disenfranchised residents of Sydney's Mt Druitt, revealed another side to illicit drug use. Heavily criticised as being exploitative 'poverty porn' that only showed the negatives of the western suburb, the producers defended the series describing the show as an "eye-opening glimpse at real life in under-resourced Australian communities". In terms of drug use it showed one of the sons of the central family being kicked out of home due to his ice addiction, a 47 year-old heroin user who had been using the drug for 30 years trying to avoid housing department officials who were trying to inspect his home, and perhaps most confronting, a 21 year-old heavily pregnant woman smoking a homemade bong. 

It was really interesting to watch the reaction to 'Struggle Street', with many people finding it difficult to believe that there are Australians who actually live like this, but it was the drug use, in particular, that many found really hard to comprehend. The truth is that for many alcohol and other drug workers these are the people they see every day, maybe not always so extreme, but those who usually get into trouble with drugs usually have a range of other social problems as well. Unfortunately, no-one really ever wants to hear about this disenfranchised group, certainly not the media. As one journalist told me in the late 90s when every media outlet was trying to find new stories on the 'heroin epidemic' - "No-one wants to read about a 40 year-old junkie living on the streets over their breakfast on Sunday morning. If they're in their teens, came from a good home, went to a good school and they're injecting heroin - that's a story!" (That's an actual quote - I wrote it down way back then and I've kept it ever since - horrifying!)

We're seeing the same thing at the moment with the ice issue. As regular readers of my blog would know, I have been trying to downplay the whole 'ice epidemic' - I'm certainly not saying it's a problem but although we are seeing people from across the country and all walks of life affected, when you really look at the data we have, it really is those communities who have a whole range of social problems (particularly in regional centres) who are being devastated by this drug.

Although the media is getting a little better at reporting this (mainly because those who make media comment from the alcohol and other drug sector are being much more careful with their commentary on this issue) we still see journalists far more interested in the 'extremes', rather than the 'norms'. For some time one of the first questions a journalist will ask me is "What is the youngest age you are seeing use?" As I said in a blog earlier this year, the Sun Herald told the story of four Sydney teenagers who had all tried the drug by the time they were 14 years old and the Canberra media ran a story on users as young as 12. There was even a front page story in a regional paper a while ago talking about a 10 year-old using the drug! Is this the norm? Absolutely not! Does it sell papers, rate through the roof and scare people? Absolutely and media outlets know it!

What was wonderful (I'm not sure if that is quite the right word) about the 'Struggle Street' documentary was that it showed a type of drug use that Australians aren't used to seeing and aren't comfortable watching (when was the last time that you saw a media story about a 47 year-old heroin user?). Ridiculous stories about Lindsay Lohan and the like getting busted with illicit drugs, turning up to court dressed in designer clothes and then doing a stint in rehab for a couple of days are much easier to watch, gossip about and then get on with our day-to-day lives without too much thought ... having the lives of people really struggling with a range of issues, including problematic drug use, thrust into our lounge rooms is confronting but important.
 
Getting back to the ice issue (one more time) ... Ice is a highly problematic drug that can cause great problems for anyone who uses it, from any walk of life, but if we look at it a little closer, there is a very specific group (the group the media, and sadly many Australians aren't really interested in reading about or seeing) that are experiencing the greatest problems. Viewing it simply as a 'nasty little drug' ignores the fact that there is an underlying social issue here that we're most probably not dealing with particularly well ... The greatest problems we are seeing with ice are in regional communities, particularly amongst lower socio-economic and disenfranchised groups (like those in the 'Struggle Street' documentary).
 
People use different drugs for different reasons and the truth is that many people will use illicit drugs (even ice believe it or not!) for a period of time and never have a major problem with their use. However, it doesn't matter whether you live in a housing commission home or own a mansion, go to the best private school or the local public high school, have the most loving, caring family in the world or get brought up on the street, you can find yourself with a significant drug problem. Unfortunately, the truth is that it is those who have other social problems are more likely to experience problems in this area. Sadly, media outlets believe that reading or seeing stories about those on 'struggle street' with drug problems is just too confronting for many Australians and as a result we will continue to be fed more palatable stories about celebrities and their 'problems'. Pretty sad really ...

Saturday, 9 May 2015

"I'm drinking too much too fast when I go to parties. What can I do to slow down?"

I don't talk about standard drinks when I speak to students - as much as I think it's important for people to be aware of the concept, realistically they're not particularly useful to young people. If you ask most adults who use standard drinks in their day-to-day life, they're usually used in relation to driving and staying under the legal limit (secondary school students can't have any alcohol in their system at all when they drive so talking to them about them as far as driving is concerned makes little or no sense). I could be wrong but I don't think I've ever met anyone who uses them in terms of maintaining a healthy life! They certainly provide important information for drinkers (and alcohol companies love the concept because it looks like they're doing something in terms of responsible drinking) but in reality we have absolutely no evidence (as far as I'm aware) that they encourage teens to drink more responsibly. In fact, I believe that they do just the opposite in many cases, with some young people comparing two drinks and looking which one gives them 'more bang for their buck' - 'the one that has the highest number of standard drinks will get me drunk faster!'

The only time I do touch the subject is when I speak to Year 12s and tell them the story of a young women I met in Adelaide a number of years ago who simply wasn't aware that when she drank Smirnoff Double Blacks she was actually drinking vodka! She had approached me after my talk with some classmates who were all very concerned about their vodka consumption. During the talk I had told them about the risks associated with vodka - high alcohol content and easy to drink - and they were asking me how they could possibly minimise the risks. When they left, she remained, quite proud of herself because she didn't drink vodka - she drank Smirnoff Double Blacks! When I told her that was vodka she was very surprised but when I asked her how many she was drinking, her answer floored me ... when she drank, she was drinking 4 or 5 in a session! When I say this to Year 12s the usual response is 'so what's wrong with that?' - when I then tell the audience that if they have ever drunk 5 Smirnoff Double Blacks in a night they have actually drunk almost half a bottle of vodka to themselves, they are stunned! A bottle of vodka is around 22 standard drinks, a Smirnoff Double Black is 1.9 standard drinks (almost two shots per can), drink 5 and you have consumed almost 10 standard drinks, just under half a bottle of spirits! Most students I speak to have certainly been taught about standard drinks (usually in Year 9 or 10) but the concept is quite abstract and they simply don't seem to be able to look at what they're drinking in that way ...

This week I met a young woman, who had recently turned 18, who was quite distressed after my Year 12 talk - the information on how much she was drinking came as quite a shock and she wanted my help. This is how the conversation went ...

I don't drink very often but when I do, I find myself drinking very quickly. I drink Smirnoff Double Blacks, mainly because it's what everyone else drinks, I had no idea how much alcohol was in them. If I'm honest, I would say that I usually drink about 4 in the first hour and a half of the night, sometimes more, and a few more after that. I don't drink to get drunk - I can't imagine anything worse than getting drunk and feeling sick - I drink purely to be social. I've never got sick after drinking so I didn't think I was drinking that much. What you said about half a bottle of vodka (and I'm obviously drinking even more than that) is scary. I'm very concerned that I drink so quickly - I pick up a drink and before I know it I've finished it. As soon as I've done that I get another one and before I know it I have finished a 4-pack! What can I do to slow down?

When I was talking to one of the teachers about the conversation afterwards she was quite shocked that the girl could drink that much and still be standing, let alone not feel sick. As I've said many times before, young people are able to drink more, for longer periods of time, than adults due to them being less susceptible to the sedative effect of alcohol. The brain mechanism of this effect are not completely clear, but it is believed to be due to the neurotransmitter GABA. In an adult brain, consuming alcohol increases GABA production, reducing energy levels and calming everything down (a depressant effect). It is now believed that final levels of GABA receptors are not reached in the brain until early adulthood, once the brain is fully developed, and therefore adolescents have fewer GABA receptors on which alcohol can act. There isn't as much of a release of GABA when they drink and they are therefore able to stay awake and unfortunately drink more!

This young woman was not drinking for the effect, that was very clear, she was drinking to be social, to 'fit in' with her peer group. She admitted that she felt uncomfortable at a party without something in her hand and told me that a water bottle or a soft drink would simply not do - that would even make it worse - those girls who didn't drink were often socially excluded or asked lots of questions about why they weren't drinking. The problem was that when she had the bottle in her hand she just couldn't stop drinking it - to be honest it sounded like she was quite an anxious girl and nerves simply got the better of her in this situation. I really do believe that we underestimate how much social anxiety influences young people's drinking behaviour, particularly young women.

I gave her a couple of suggestions, one of which she felt really comfortable with ...
  • I told her about the mother I had met years ago who had a daughter who was an elite athlete who in Year 12 was beginning to find herself socially excluded because she chose not to drink alcohol. In response and to help her daughter 'save face', the mother would buy ready-to-drinks (RTDs) like Smirnoff Double Blacks, empty them out, refill them with soft drink and recap them and give them to her daughter to take to parties
  • Find lower alcohol content drinks with greater volume (Bacardi Breezers for example are only 1 standard drink, half the alcohol content of her current drink of choice) and take those to parties instead. Drink exactly the same number of drinks in a night and you are drinking half as much as you were previously - a very positive outcome
  • Holding a water bottle all night may be 'social suicide' but picking it up and drinking a bottle between drinks to help space out your alcohol intake may not be so problematic
  • Don't drink out of the can or bottle - instead pour the alcohol you take into a glass and only half fill it, then top it up with soft drink. Once again, you will be reducing your alcohol intake dramatically over the night but still manage to retain your social standing with your peer group

She loved the idea of drinking lower alcohol content drinks (which interestingly she didn't know even existed!) and when she learnt that she would half her alcohol consumption by doing this she looked relieved! Taking 'fake alcohol' worried her as she was concerned that she could be found out ("How do you make sure no-one picks up one of your drinks and catches you out?" she asked). The water bottle, even in between drinks, just didn't seem an option for her (what pressure must there be in some of these groups?) and although she thought the glass option was a really good idea she was concerned about the possible risk of drink spiking.

There is great pressure on young people to drink alcohol, with some groups feeling this pressure from a very young age. Do all of them want to get rolling drunk and feel sick the next day? Of course not - for many it is simply the social nature of drinking that is attractive. Unfortunately that doesn't make it any less dangerous. To my mind, teaching Year 9s and 10s about standard drinks is a huge waste of time - it is an abstract concept that they find difficult to match to their own lives. The Year 12 I met this week had been taught about standard drinks (she'd done the old favourite classroom activity of pouring drinks when she had been in Year 10) but was not able to relate that to her own drinking and the dilemma she was currently facing. Realistically I don't think there's much more a school can do in this area - it really is up to a parent to sit down with their teen and help them navigate through the pressures of drinking when they're this age. As I always say, give kids the information they actually want and they will listen ... this young woman wanted some options when she was informed about the risks - I truly believe that she will now change her drinking behaviour to some extent because she got information that was helpful to her at the time she needed it!

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Why I chose not to give the media a comment on 'the PM skolling a beer' story

I've been working with the Australian media for almost 25 years now and to be quite honest, nothing really surprises me anymore! As much as I think the general public has a much greater understanding of how the media works today than in the past, we still have a long way to go before we can say that Mr and Mrs Joe Average are always able to critically evaluate a media story and not just jump in feet first and accept all of it as gospel!

A couple of weeks ago I posted the following message on my Facebook page:

"Just been asked by a 'journalist' what my thoughts are on the PM "pulling a Bob Hawke" - i.e., skolling a beer in 6 seconds and did I "think it sent a bad message to our young people"? I couldn't care less what Tony Abbott does when it comes to having a drink - I'm just sick and tired of media outlets asking me if I'm 'outraged' when someone does something like this! Am I impressed that someone can down a glass of beer so quickly? Absolutely not! Should it be a major news story? How ridiculous ..."

That was posted just after 7am, just after I received my first phone call from a radio station on the subject. Throughout the day I was contacted by reporters from television, radio and an online news service - all wanting to know my views on the Prime Minister's drinking habits. I declined all of them. Since then I have been asked by a number of people why I made that decision, particularly because only a couple of weeks before I had been very vocal about Shane Warne's comments after Australia won the World Cup. Why wasn't I 'outraged'?

Firstly, there is something that everyone needs to know when reading someone's comments in the media about being 'outraged' by something ... There are very few times when an 'expert' or some other type of social commentator actually contacts a media organisation to tell them that they're outraged - I know I never have! What actually happens is that a journalist hears about an incident and then tries to find someone who could possibly be upset or concerned by it. This can sometimes take a fair bit of hunting! I couldn't count the number of times I've been asked to make such a comment (over the years I've been asked about things such new alcohol products, countless movies or TV shows that supposedly glamourized drug use and even an advert in a local paper selling bucket bongs) and many of those times I have had to turn around and say I wasn't! The problem with commenting on this type of story is that all you end up actually doing is give it a longer life span, when in reality what we should actually be doing is to starve it of oxygen and kill it in its tracks!

As I said in my Facebook post, am I impressed that a 57 year-old man can skol a beer in front of a group of cheering footballers urging him on? Absolutely not! Should it get a run on the 6 o'clock news and get running commentary - I don't believe it should. Don't get me wrong, if the PM had done this at a formal event where he was representing the country, TV cameras all around and he was well aware that it would be picked up by the media, I would have been shouting loudly. What we actually had was a shoddy piece of video shot on a mobile phone that had been posted on Facebook. Was it a stupid thing for Abbott to have done? Of course it was, but how it ended up being a major news story (the TV news story that I saw was constructed to look like the public health lobby was up-in-arms) is beyond me! I want to make it very clear that I am not criticising anybody who did decide to make a comment on the issue - that is entirely their business - but it wasn't for me!

Shane Warne's comments were completely different. This is not about being a wowser - he is a famous sportsman who should know better. His comments were made on live television, with millions of people watching, many of them children. What he and the Australian cricket team do behind closed doors as far as alcohol is concerned is their business, they are adults, and it is not my place to make comment on that, but it was obvious that even the cricketers he was interviewing were feeling uncomfortable with his line of questioning that night.

When I was working at NDARC (and NCPIC) a key part of my role was to ensure that the Centre's research findings were disseminated as widely as possible. With that in mind, I worked extremely hard over many years to build strong positive relationships with journalists and media organisations in an effort to try to ensure that important stories actually got a run, and if they did, that they were reported in a way that was responsible and were indeed a true representation of the results. To build those relationships I had to make myself available to every news outlet 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and be willing to make a comment on just about anything ...

Back then there were very few people who were willing to speak to the media about alcohol and other drug issues - for a very long time Dr Alex Wodak was the sole voice - and the media was keen to find others who would be able to respond in a timely way on this highly controversial topic. Not surprisingly, researchers and academics were not usually willing to make a comment about such mundane things as the possible impact of a famous sportsman being caught for drink driving on young people and whether Brad Pitt's supposed cannabis use could lead to teens believing that pot was 'safe'! When I think about some of the stories I have been quoted in it makes my toes curl ... But if you wanted to establish a relationship with a journalist or a media outlet you had to be willing to help them with the stories that no-one else wanted to touch. Short, sharp grabs on these issues are not difficult to come up with and in reality, I just kept recycling the same old things time and time again!

In the last couple of years since I left the university I have tried to reduce the amount of media I do - I will certainly try to assist reporters that I have had a relationship with for a long time, but I am now far more likely to give them the name and contact number of someone else than opt to do the interview myself. Making media comment is a thankless task - no matter what you say you're always going to upset someone who doesn't like what you said, whether you actually said it or not! Even the best journalist can be edited down by subs and there have been a number of times over the years when a comment has appeared in the paper attributed to me that certainly never came out of my mouth ...

There's one more important point I'd like to make more generally ... I think we have to be extremely careful when it comes to making media comment around alcohol at the moment - appearing to be outraged by each indiscretion a public figure makes in this area could be dangerous. I really do believe that we have a significant proportion of the Australian public currently on-side when it comes to making cultural change in this area, as the FARE Annual Alcohol Poll released this week suggests. That said, we do have to be careful that we don't start to be seen as simply coming out and knocking absolutely everything to do with alcohol and the drinking culture. I believe we have to pick our battles very carefully, always remembering that alcohol is the drug of choice for many Australians ... overstep the line (and it's a fine one!) and we will be seen as wowsers and the 'fun police', even by those who currently support us, and once that happens it will be extremely difficult to get that invaluable support back!