The death of a young man on the shores of Lake Kaniere near Hokitika after binge-drinking with mates has been labelled a senseless and sad illustration of this country's binge-drinking culture. And it was.

Mitchell Heward was a good boy, by all accounts.

He'd bought a car and a motorbike, he and a mate were saving to go overseas and buy a farm.

But after a drinking session with a group of friends down at the lake in 2016, where he drank beer and spirits from a funnel, he collapsed and died and couldn't be revived.


His friends were devastated and his best mate now goes around schools lecturing kids on the dangers of alcohol and specifically binge drinking.

It might help the young man feel better about supplying his underage friend with alcohol. And his message might get through to some young people.

But I doubt it.

Mitchell's pointless death brought back memories of another teenager who died because of binge drinking and peer pressure.

Eight years ago, James Webster died after drinking straight vodka at a 16th birthday party.

Another good kid who was going places, he too was around friends who were drinking heavily, and thought he could do the same.

He was taken home by a parent at the party to "sleep it off" but James' body simply couldn't process the amount of alcohol in his system and he too died a senseless and preventable death.

The young man who supplied him with alcohol said he now realises that rules around alcohol are there for a reason and that alcohol can be a deadly poison. Pretty much the same lesson Mitchell's friends have learned.


And yet it takes a death within your own circle to drive that message home.

Of course, most people will drink too much at one time or another and live to tell the tale.

We all process alcohol differently. I have two friends who, quite literally, cannot stomach alcohol. They can have a couple of sips — any more than that, and their body rejects it immediately. I don't think it's any coincidence that they're clear-eyed, dewy-skinned and slender.

But not everybody, or every body, has that early warning system that tells them to beware of the poison they're ingesting.

So why do most of us choose to swallow something that, for the most part, does us very little good?

It's certainly not because a gold medal-winning Olympian tells us to.

Rowing great Eric Murray was removed from a beer campaign called Beer the Beautiful Truth because an alcohol watchdog complained that he was a "hero of the young" and was effectively being used to encourage minors to drink.

The Advertising Standards Authority complaints board upheld the complaint in part, and content featuring Eric Murray was removed from all unrestricted areas.

But seriously, I doubt very much whether a sporting hero or hard-drinking Hollywood actor would have been on the minds of the young people gathered on the shores of Lake Kaniere.

Sure, in Eric Murray's case, he could have shown them better things to do at a lake than drink by one, but the kids drink because their friends do and because, for a brief moment in time, they can escape themselves and it feels good.

That's why most of us willingly consume poison, and what's more, pay for the privilege.

That's not to say the alcohol industry shouldn't be doing more to let people know exactly what they're tipping down their throats.

Labelling should be compulsory, with the number of kilojoules written in bold type. And warnings about what happens when you misuse alcohol should also be required.

"Drinking too much can make you fat and puffy."

"Drinking too much can lead to you putting your willy where you wouldn't put your brolly."

"Drinking too much can make you an obnoxious arse." That sort of thing.

Ultimately though, despite education campaigns, whether you let teenagers drink with you or ban it from the house, whether sportsmen promote booze or not, teenagers will be teenagers.

They will ignore advice and take risks and most of them will survive. We did.

And then we have to sit back and watch our own teenagers negotiate those perilous years, hoping and praying that they too are the lucky ones who make it through.

Kerre McIvor's Sunday Sessions is on NewstalkZB today, 9am-noon.