Alexander Muir jumped off the Story Bridge not long after his 21st Birthday. His shirt, thongs, wallet and phone were found on the footpath. His body was recovered from the Brisbane River below. The Coroner’s report found that he’d drowned, with a blood alcohol level of 0.238.
Alexander’s friends and family are convinced he didn’t commit suicide, despite the Story Bridge being a notorious suicide spot.
The Bridge is fully fenced nowadays, with phones available which directly connect desperate people to Lifeline.
Alexander’s friends and family describe him as a thoughtful young man: sweet, funny, an amazing listener. But when he drank, his personality would change – he’d become bolder, braver, sillier, funnier, more maverick.
Alexander’s sister, Elspeth, spent the months after her brother’s death searching for answers, eventually writing a book. While digging through the debris, she realised her brother had developed a pattern of risky behaviour associated with drinking, which had not been addressed in the lead up to the fateful night.
Alexander had been drinking with friends on that night. A mate offered him a lift home at about 9.30pm, but the young man wanted to stay out longer. He went to a different pub, met some other friends, and by 1am, they too wanted to put Alexander in a cab home. He chose neither of those options – perhaps too drunk to be capable of making a sensible choice.
Sadly, Alexander’s story is not uncommon.
In Australia, one person aged between 16 and 25 dies every week due to an alcohol-related incident, and 60 are hospitalised
These incidents often result from behaviour we ‘normalise’ – after all, larrikinism or larking around at the pub is one of Australia’s favourite pastimes. While drunk, we often engage in conduct which might otherwise be socially unacceptable – all in good fun.
But our tendency to binge drink comes with risks over and above the health consequences, including accidents, brawls and king hits, as well as risky decisions like accompanying strangers, having unprotected and being alone in secluded areas.
According to the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC), more than one-third of Australians drink in a way that is hazardous to their health.
In 2010, the Australian Institute of Criminology estimated the cost of alcohol-related problems at $14.352 billion per year, comprising:
- $2.958b (or 20.6%) in costs to the criminal justice system
- $1.686b (or 11.7%) to the health system
- $6.046b (or 42.1%) in lost productivity, and
- $3.662b (or 25.5%) associated with traffic accidents.
And as the AIC points out, this data does not take into account the impact on others, including family and friends.
Earlier this year, the Australian Medical Association renewed warnings about the dangers of alcohol, particularly with regard to mental health.
The Association calls our nation’s relationship with alcohol “extremely unhealthy”, saying the drug causes more harm than all other drugs combined. It points out the strong link between alcohol and depression, explaining that while alcohol is a depressant, it also stimulates and affects brain chemistry by alternating levels of neurotransmitters – the chemical messengers which control our thought processes, emotions and behaviours.
Like other addictive drugs, alcohol increases the release of dopamine in a person’s brain creating a feeling of euphoria, which at the same time reacting with other brain chemicals which are linked with depression.
20-25% of Australians suffers from depression at some stage in their lives, creating feelings of hopelessness and despair and, in extreme cases, leading to suicide.
Teenagers are especially vulnerable to alcohol addiction and associated depression, with their developing brain, lack of maturity and social pressures heightening the risk of risky conduct and self-harm.
In a thought-provoking article called “Hello, my name is Australia and I am an alcoholic”, 19-year-old student Joshua Blake expresses the view that while the Government spends millions of dollars on initiatives to combat smoking, it has a double-standard when it comes to alcohol, which is a cultural staple, and yet more dangerous in so many ways.
He believes our society uses drinking as a ‘rite of passage’ and that binge drinking is an accepted and expected weekend pastime – to the point where if you’re not doing it, you’re considered boring and out-of-place.
Blake is not alone, many Australians believe teenage alcohol addiction is an entrenched cultural problem- for boys and girls – and that many more tragedies like Alexander’s will occur if we don’t make changes.