Participants talked broadly about four influential factors in relation to their family environment that contributed to their choices to abstain or drink responsibly: 1. parents and family role models who drank responsibly or who abstained and were happy; 2. parents and family role models who drank irresponsibly and created negative feelings; and 3. own fear of being reprimanded by parents.
Family environment: “Happy drinkers” versus “Heavy drinkers”
From our focus group data the idea of “happy drinkers” and “heavy drinkers” seem to capture well what in these Pacific young people’s words is a “cool” or “alright” drinking habit versus what is not a good drinking habit where a young person decides that he does not want to “follow in [their] footsteps”. In the two excerpts below from Focus Groups 8 and 9, the first offers the idea that alcohol drinking could be associated with “cool” family events where it helped to create “a happy buzz” in the household and where the cares of financial constraints seem forgotten, at least for the moment (Focus Group 8: Quote 1). In this situation the young person suggests that alcohol drinking can be something positive; that it can have positive consequences. He suggests that there can be and are in his family “happy drinkers”. He says:
“In my family like drinking…they have a couple of drinks. It’s a socialising thing and also creates a happy buzz. Like I said before that when my parents drink they’re like not stressed; like throughout the week and they get lots of money and they’re like “yaaayyy”. Like we have happy drinkers and they’re all in that buzz and then just like wanna sing songs bring out the uke bring out the spoons and then they sing all these songs and it’s like cool” (Focus group 8: Quote 1).
The next excerpt (Focus Group 9: Quote 2) talks about “heavy drinkers” in the context of “other family” members who drink heavily, so much so that the wives and children of these Uncles (who are the “heavy drinkers”) seem, at least to the young person sharing his views, to be a burden on them. This young person draws comparisons between his non-alcohol drinking parents and those of his cousins and decides that he is “lucky [his] dad’s not like that”.
“My parents don’t drink and stuff so because of their morals they’ve taught me and stuff it’s kinda (sic) put me in the right path. I have other family that drink as well and I could also see the differences coz …I could see like with my aunty and my uncles and that, like my uncles would be the heavy drinkers and my aunties would be there looking after the kids and stuff. And I don’t tend to see them like helping out around the house stuff and I was just thinking you know lucky my dad’s not like that and my mum…yeah. Well my parents have a big part in it…” (Focus group 9: Quote 2).
These Pacific young people suggest that in processing whether or not they will drink, drink too much or not drink alcohol at all, the drinking habits and practices of the adults in their households or wider family circles do impact on their decision-making processes. The impact of parents on young people’s choices is raised explicitly throughout the different focus groups. In the two excerpts from two different focus groups cited immediately below (Quotes 3 and 4), the point is raised emphatically.
“Well my biological father, he’s an alcoholic…he currently has liver failure. He could consume a whole bottle of vodka without any mix, he’ll just drink it straight and he could at least drink a bottle a day. My mum said it’s not really a good thing. That’s why she’s always cautious of me of drinking as well…she’s always scared that [I might] go down that route but nah, I don’t drink like that… I guess that [my father being an alcoholic] definitely would have an impact…like I certainly did not wanna go on that road and follow in his foot steps…” (Focus group 16: Quote 3).
“[My father’s drinking affected] the whole family. Coz he used to go after anyone and everyone. And he like jumped out of the car in the middle of the motorway while my mum was driving and ran across like yelling at people and stuff and I was like [afraid]…he used to scare like the crap out of me coz… one time I saw him and like he was like getting held down by 10 police officers and yeah like my dad’s a Palagi [European] so like you don’t expect that from Palagis but they’re just as bad as Islanders and Maoris” (Focus Group 6: Quote 4).
Indeed the young person from Focus group 12 whose voice is quoted in the next excerpt (Quote 5) suggests that it is the primary responsibility of parents to teach their children “in the beginning” how to drink responsibly.
“If you’re taught…the good and bad stuff about everything then… you can like weigh up your [options]…everyone has their own limits; like some people can drink responsibly and they know when to stop, but others don’t know when to stop… so if you’re taught in the beginning…you can decide for yourself, like when to drink and how much to drink and that’s cool” (Focus group 12: Quote 5).
Another Pacific young person from focus group 13 offers us insight into his process for assessing – which is quite careful and sensitive – the pros and cons of different situations which Pacific young people find themselves with regards to the influence of parents who are “happy drinkers” versus “heavy drinkers” on whether or not they should drink. He suggests at Quote 6 below that the fact that his father didn’t drink and seemed “alright” influenced him “to not want to drink”. The implication is that where there are positive consequences to decisions not to drink for those adults of significance to young people and this is witnessed by them, any pressure to drink and especially to drink irresponsibly and excessively can be lessened by this experience.
“I think my dad not drinking, influences me to not want to drink. Coz I don’t know, maybe people with parents who do drink or do have an alcohol addiction like maybe they feel like they need that as well. But um, yeah, my dad doesn’t drink and he’s alright. So, I feel that I’ll be alright if I don’t drink as well” (Focus group 13 – Quote 6).
The young people of our study also acknowledged that “heavy drinkers” may also drink heavily because they are depressed and wish to forget a traumatic event and “their sorrows”. The two excerpts below (Quotes 7 and 8) highlight two such situations.
“I think people drink because they drink their sorrows away. Um you know they drink because they’re depressed and if something’s gone wrong in their life, it’s, you know, they turn to drinking. It’s yeah um what do you call it, I had a… my cousin she is a heavy drinker! and when she lost her baby, that’s when she started drinking. Like she never drunk before but then when she just lost it was…yeah, we, we um we’re there to support her or anything but just seems like sometimes she just like pushes us away, which is really sad but we’re still, I think, [we] care, like you know, [give] love and support that she needs. So we’re just gonna be there and keep supporting her kinda thing, so…yeah” (Focus Group 9: Quote 7).
“Oh my dad, when we had this family function, he wanted to drive the van onto the road just so that other people can park into the parking…well my brother was rolling down on…those plastic bike things and well my dad didn’t see him coming down the hill and he ran over him and that like sort of thinged off. Yeah it stuck with me yeah and that was like one of the other areas…it mucks up your judgement” (Focus Group 8: Quote 8).
The two young people sharing these accounts reflect on how even though alcohol may give temporary relief from one’s sorrows, in their words, “it mucks up your judgement” and the situation is “really sad”. The young person’s offer of support to her cousin mentioned in Focus Group 9 (Quote 7) reflects how some of our Pacific young people might internalise responsibility not only to help develop protection strategies for the sufferer, but also for themselves whereby they may use this situation as evidence for why they should not drink or not drink irresponsibly.
A consequence of heavy drinking as attested to by a participant of Focus Group 4 is financial strife for the family. The heavy drinker in this young person’s family was his father who was responsible for paying their family bills.
“Dad’s pretty adamant on drinking. He has to have alcohol every week and he knows that there’s mortgage to pay, there’s bills to pay and that, but he still has to have that [drink] and that affects us, yeah, financially as well, that money could be going to better use [like] my lunch. (Focus group 4: Quote 9)
Family environment: Sibling relationships: “Trying to prove something”
Like the relationships of young people with their parents, their relationships with siblings can be quite influential, in both a positive and negative sense. Sibling rivalry is natural and can be quite healthy. In terms of sibling relationships acting as a protective factor against developing negative drinking habits, the message implicit in the talk of one of the participants of Focus Group 14 is that it is usually the responsibility of the older siblings to take care of their younger siblings and to realise that sometimes the younger siblings need to “prove something” and need space to do so. He says:
“Yeah, oh, [with me] its affected me and my younger brother, coz he’s just turn 21, but…probably because he’s young, he’s always trying to prove something, up on his drinking and it’s sort of affected like oh, our relationship… now that [ ] we are both drinking [ ] we sort of have our little arguments and that…so I told him that I don’t want to drink with him anymore [ ] when he drinks…Like at his twenty first just recently I didn’t drink, I just helped out like with food and stuff. And then when he drinks, when I drink, I try not drink around him. Coz it’s, I think he…was probably trying to be the man, more than [me], then coz I was the older brother. But yeah, that’s what’s affected in my family, just the relationship” (Focus Group 14: Quote 11).