Young people and alcohol-related violence: Improving gender sensitivity in research and policy – a pilot study

Project Team

Kate Seear, National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University
Suzanne Fraser, National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University
David Moore, National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University
Robin Room, The University of Melbourne, and Director, Centre for Alcohol Policy Research

Project

Research suggests that Australian youth are consuming alcohol at increasingly dangerous levels, and that this is leading to a rise in alcohol-related violence (ARV) among young people. Researchers concerned about these apparent trends have proposed a number of possible policy responses. These include: reduced alcohol outlet density; changes to alcohol pricing, promotion and availability and harm reduction strategies directed towards youth. In this sense, claims about ARV are often shaped by a set of important assumptions about the ‘effects’ of alcohol upon young people. In a related sense, researchers working in the emerging field of addiction neuroscience argue that alcohol, like other drugs, alters the structure of the brain and the way it works. Young people are said to be especially vulnerable to the effects of alcohol because their brains are not yet fully developed. In this regard, young people are understood to be at greater risk of perpetrating ARV than other segments of the population, because they are naturally more vulnerable to making ‘irrational’ or ‘impulsive’ decisions when under the influence of alcohol. One problem with these approaches is that they treat ‘young people’ as a homogeneous group with a similar capacity for and consistent propensity towards violence. They also assume that the phenomenon of ARV can be explained either wholly or principally by the internal workings of the brain (synapses, receptors and neurotransmitters). In both senses, relevant research, policy and practice may overlook the role of gender in ARV. The implication that alcohol consumption generates risky and/or violent behaviours among youth regardless of gender is at odds with the evidence which consistently shows that men are the main perpetrators of all forms of violence against the person. Policy responses will be less effective and/or generate additional harms where they do not attend sufficiently to these differences. This pilot study addresses this problem by qualitatively examining and comparing how young men and women understand, define and experience ARV. These issues are explored via in-depth interviews with select youth from Victoria who meet VYADS definitions for ‘high risk’ drinkers. In isolating differences and similarities by gender, we will lay the foundations for a larger national study. This will examine the extent to which alcohol policies mesh with the gendered dimensions of ARV and explore strategies for improving the gender-sensitivity of such policies for improved social and public health outcomes.

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