'Leavers' is a celebratory event for students who have recently completed their secondary education. This study examined patterns of alcohol and other drug use at Leavers, and explored influences on, and the impacts of use. Over 900 surveys were administered using a pre- and post-celebration design.
Objectives. To explore alcohol and other drug (AOD) use at school leavers’ celebrations (‘Leavers’) in Western Australia. Patterns of AOD use at the event, influences on, and the impacts of use were evaluated.
Methods. Core data were gathered using a two-part survey design with a self-report methodology. Participants were young people (mostly 17 years of age) who intended to, and attended the celebrations at Rottnest Island. Rottnest Island (RI) is a popular location for the event in Western Australia. The pre-Leavers survey assessed: expectations of personal and peer AOD use at Leavers; expectations of the Leavers context; experiences such as parental discussions about alcohol use; and AOD use at the last social event attended with friends (‘usual’ use). The post-Leavers survey investigated AOD use, perceptions of peer AOD use, experience of AOD-conducive conditions, negative consequences, and harm reduction strategies that were employed at the celebrations. The capture rate for the young people on RI was approximately 37% for the pre-Leavers survey (N=541) and 28% for the post-Leavers survey (N=405). Respondents were able to complete both surveys (the ‘matched’ sample; n=120), or one of the two.
Results. The first survey established that young people anticipated Leavers to be a permissive context for AOD use and 84% intended to use alcohol at the event. In the post-Leavers survey, the clear majority (93%) reported using alcohol during the celebrations. Of these drinkers, 87% drank at levels above the current guidelines for low risk consumption. On an average day, females drank 11.4 standard drinks, and males drank 17.1 standard drinks. One fifth used an illicit drug (cannabis, ecstasy or amphetamine), and 53% used caffeine (commonly in combination with alcohol). A slightly greater quantity of alcohol was consumed at Leavers than intended prior to the event, and in contrast to alcohol, illicit drug use appeared to be more opportunistic than pre-planned. Most (87%) reported experiencing at least one negative experience they attributed to AOD use. However, safety strategies appeared to be popular and significantly protective, even after controlling for AOD use. Parents had a significant role in alcohol supply (25%) and perceptions of their approval, or not, of AOD use appeared to correlate with riskier patterns of use. The prevalence and quantity of alcohol used was higher compared to the last social event attended, but of other surveyed drugs, only ecstasy was more commonly used at Leavers. Models based on Triandis’ Theory of Interpersonal Behaviour had substantial utility in accounting for individual variation in AOD use.
Conclusions. Young people with histories of riskier AOD use likely self select to attend Leavers, and to attend at locations such as Rottnest Island with reputations for heavy use. AOD use at the event was, to a certain extent, a continuation of established behavioural patterns that were amplified by the permissive context of Leavers. A similar drinking pace was exhibited across contexts (the last event and Leavers), and past use was a significant predictor of both alcohol and illicit drug use. However, there were conditions at the celebrations, such as a greater number drinking hours available, and the greater acceptability of intoxication-related behaviours which contributed to Leavers being an environment that was atypically more conducive to AOD use. To address these levels of use and harm, the continuation and expansion of current interventions was recommended. Current diversionary activities that aim to reduce drinking hours were supported. Also, a further focus on parental influence and the promotion of a greater variety of harm reduction strategies was suggested.