Research shows that 65 per cent of Ballarat students in years seven and nine have drunk alcohol, a much higher figure than students across Victoria.
At the end of Community Safety Month, the City of Ballarat and multiple health organisations met last week to discuss findings from the Underage Supply Monitoring Project.
Deakin University chair of health psychology Professor John Toumbourou has lead this research project since 2002.
“It’s part of a cultural problem,” said Professor Toumbourou who believes the current youth culture has normalised alcohol consumption.
Compared to surrounding regions, Ballarat has the highest rate of alcohol-related problems among young people.
Problems include assaults, family incidents, serious road-accident injuries and hospital admissions.
“A lot of this begins in the home,” Professor Toumbourou said.
Family supply and lenient identification checks were the main factors in dangerous underage drinking, Professor Toumbourou said.
City of Ballarat youth development and research officer Jodie Downey said the drinking culture fractured relationships within the community.
“The potential of young people to be vibrant, alive and contribute is reduced,” Ms Downey said.
Early alcohol consumption was thought to be the worst gateway drug, Professor Toumbourou said, and it was causing problems in young adults, including brain malfunction.
The Smart Generation project attempts to reduce the sale and use of alcohol among underage people in Ballarat.
“The community has been very proactive in order to reduce these problems,” Professor Toumbourou said.
“We are seeing considerable support for those messages locally.”
The City of Ballarat is also collaborating with Ballarat Community Health, Uniting Care, Victoria Police, St John’s Ambulance and several high schools to combat the issue.
While Ms Downey awaited the results of the trial, Professor Toumbourou was confident recent improvements will continue.
“We want a 20 per cent drop and we think it is achievable,” Professor Toumbourou said.
“If not, we’ll just have to put more energy in.”