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Teen alcoholic tells of battle with the bottle

Jesse is 23-years-old and should be able to have a beer with his mates.

Instead he is an alcoholic.

After leaving school at 16 to take up a chef apprenticeship, he began regularly drinking with his older work mates, then slowly watched his life spiral out of control as he went on three or four day benders which would even stretch into weeks if he was on holidays.

“My attitude started changing,” he said.

“I dropped out of my trade and started living out of my home and I disrespected my family and friends.

“In the end I just turned into a really nasty person, violent, and just not a nice person to be around.

At one point, inspired by getting a good job at a respected City restaurant, he tried to stop using drugs and alcohol, but without support, he ended up in a hospital psychiatric unit – a story which he repeated only three months after got back out.

At just 19, however, he hit rock bottom.

“Towards the end I still didn’t realise I had a problem with alcohol – other people pointed it out, my housemates even moved out because they couldn’t be around me and people I was working with suggested I go to AA – but I was like `yeah whatever’.

“And then one day I ended up on the streets for a couple of days.

“I went to hospital, and I thought I just had an anger management problem, but I went right up to rehab where they referred me to.

“Then I did detox – and I only went there to get a roof over my head and some food – but I went to an AA meeting at the rehab and I just listened to everyone’s stories and really identified with what they were saying about never being able to stop at just one drink.”

Jesse started regularly going to the AA meetings, but did not follow the organisation’s full program.

Then after 12 months on the wagon, a day at the Caxton Street Seafood Festival descended into a four week bender.

Now – back on track – he has been sober for three years, has completed the full AA program, is studying international businesss and logistics at university, plans to begin studying law next year and his future is looking bright.

“I’m still going to AA meetings and I haven’t necessarily conquered it, but I’ve got myself out of the rut that I was in,” he said.

“Now I’m just living life to the fullest really.”

Jesse’s story is a common one for Dr Jeremy Hayllar, clinical director of alcohol and drug services in Queensland Health’s metro north district.

Dr Hayllar, who will also speak at next Saturday’s information session, said while youth alcohol abuse did not appear to be on the rise in Australia, its effects were alarming.

He said the younger people were when they began drinking, the greater risk they faced of developing a dependence on alcohol.

Drunken youths were also far more likely to commit self harm or suicide, violence against others, or be injured in an accident, he said.

Dr Hayllar also cited the Australian National Health and Research Council’s new guidelines on alcohol use, which clearly state what age is considered to be safe for people to begin drinking.

“They’ve made strong recommendations about young people and alcohol, saying that under (age) 15 it is a definite no-no and between 15 and 18 it is really something that should be avoided if at all possible,” he said.

“If it is going to happen and they are going to be exposed to alcohol then preferably it should be done under the supervision of parents and not at a party where everyone is off to find their own level of alcohol use without supervision.”

“And this comes from a greater understanding of how the brain develops. It used to be thought that by the time you were five the brain was fully grown and from then on it was just about experience, but now it is recognised that the brain doesn’t finish maturing until the early 20s.

“All that time during adolescence there are lots of things happening and the effect of alcohol on the brain at the time is of high risk of affecting brain development in all sorts of ways, including memory, behaviour and so forth.

He added the long-term effects of alcohol abuse were devastating.

“Particularly in the UK, where things have gotten really out of hand, they have seen people at the age of 20 with serious alcohol-related liver disease – so that means by the time people have reached adult-hood they have already caused themselves irreversible liver damage,” he said.

He said youth alcohol abuse was not near as severe in Australia as in the UK, however secondary school surveys had shown “a very high proportion” of secondary school students, particularly in the 16-18 year-old age group, regularly drank – many of them more than the recommended upper maximum of four units on any one occasion.

source: Brisbane Times

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