Lifestyle, Youth

Teens & alcohol: the last drop

The UK has the highest number of teens abusing alcohol in Europe. They are supported by their parents, some allowing their children to start drinking at just 13-years-old.


Olga Briasco


Alcohol is a well-established part of today’s society, with both teens and adults succumbing to its effects. Drinking alcohol is a mark of class distinction, somewhere between hedonism and an escape route for those who want to forget their problems.

Cinema has helped project this image, producing memorable phrases such as: “Vodka Martini, shaken, not stirred.”; “You can never, never ask me to stop drinking. Do you understand?” (“Leaving Las Vegas”); “One’s too many and a hundred’s not enough” (“The Lost Weekend”).

This almost positive impression has created a belief that alcohol and fun go hand-in-hand. Drinking has become a weekend ritual, motivated by the need to have fun at all costs.

Alcohol has also taken on a cultural significance in the UK. Eighteenth century writings speak of men practising this “sport”, by seeing who could drink the most without falling to the floor, as well as women who go to pharmacies to buy gin for its medicinal purposes, mixing it with hot water.

Increased Consumption

It’s a fact that drinking alcohol is a recognised means of social interaction, as it encourages people to get along. Taken in moderation, alcohol reduces tension, loosens inhibitions and provokes a sense of well-being.

However, when consumed to excess, alcohol becomes a larger issue, endangering not only individual development, but social development as well. According to figures from the World Health Organisation (WHO), alcohol is the cause of 2.5 million deaths every year.

Alcoholism is a disease that affects all ages and sexes. In recent years there has been a drinking boom amongst young people. Around 9% of deaths in young people between the ages of 15 and 29 (about 320,000) are related to alcohol consumption.

The highest levels of consumption occur in the developed world, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere, as well as Argentina, Australia and New Zealand.

Ahead of the Game

In recent years, alcohol consumption has been rampant in the United Kingdom. Although excessive alcohol intake is a preventable disease, Britons drink 90% more now than in the 60s.

According to Local Alcohol Profiles for England, around 15,000 people died from excessive alcohol consumption between 2010 and 2011, and 1.1 million were hospitalised for alcohol-related reasons.

According to Hospital Episode Statistics (HES), the NHS Information Centre for Social and Health Care, last year there was an 8% increase in the number of people hospitalised for conditions related to alcohol, with 13,000 of these admissions being for adolescents. This medical assistance costs the NHS £2.7 billion.

It also warns of the importance of reducing consumption amongst young people. With 13 children hospitalised every day, Britain has the highest rate of teen alcohol abuse in Europe, as well as the highest rate of crimes committed by under-age drinkers.

Different surveys show that although 18 is the legal age to buy alcohol in the UK, every week at least 13% of under-age teens drink beer or mixers.

On average, English teenagers have their parents’ permission to drink by the age of 13.

Another study published by BBC Wales presented alarming statistics. At least 1,200 children under 12 have been rushed to A&E due to alcohol intoxication.

Figures from the charity Drinkaware collaborate this, with studies showing that many children buy alcohol with their parents’ permission. The report, based on answers from children aged between 10 and 17, reveals that 50% of respondents were given their first alcoholic drink by their parents.

The latest study from the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (2011) confirms this increase. Britain came fifth in a survey of 35 countries with the highest proportion of young people who had been drunk in the past 30 days (65%) and fourth in terms of highest percentage of alcohol volume of their last drink (6.7%).

83% of British parents understand the importance of discussing the dangers of alcohol with their children. However, one in three British adults admits that they themselves aren’t even really sure of the actual adverse effects of alcoholism.

This lack of awareness regarding mental effects and the negative influence on health, in addition to the economy and social relationships, has helped alcohol become one of the Britain’s biggest problems.

Besides health problems, alcohol abuse also has an effect on sexual health and teen pregnancy rates. One in eight girls aged 15 to 16 has had unprotected sex after drinking alcohol.

A Clearly Defined Profile

The most common causes of alcohol abuse among young people, according to psychologists, are copying friends, having more fun, forgetting problems, the taste and loosening inhibitions.

However, Doctor Bonnie Nagel, from Oregon Health and Science University, adds that “while a family history of alcoholism may put people at a higher risk of alcohol abuse, personality and behavioural risk factors are also important considerations.”

In her opinion, “the combination of genetic and environmental factors is different for everyone, so some people may be at greater risk than others”.

Therefore, although young people drink almost exclusively at the weekend, those with a family history of substance abuse, teens with depression or low self-esteem who feel excluded from the popular group, may be prone to alcoholism.

Another study carried out in 2011 by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation of 5,700 British teenagers between the ages of 13 and 16-years-old found that there was a direct link between adults and their children when it comes to alcohol consumption. Children coming from a family where at least one parent drank excessively ran twice the risk of getting drunk regularly compared to children whose families had no alcohol problems.

It has been claimed that British women drink the most, although according to another study, conducted in the UK, Holland, Spain, Portugal, Estonia and Slovenia, only 7.7% of female consumers drink to excess, compared to 8.9% of men.

Experts attribute this to high levels of economic independence amongst women, in addition to the popular British belief that drinking is an essential way to enjoy an evening.

Proposals

According to a Government statement regarding the Alcohol Strategy, new laws will soon be enforced in order to reduce the population’s alcohol consumption.

Measures include establishing minimum pricing for alcohol in England and Wales. Although unit prices are yet to be established, the Prime Minister said, “An extra 40p could mean 50,000 fewer crimes each year and 9,000 fewer alcohol related deaths over the next decade.”

The strategy also includes removing any promotional offers on alcohol, zero tolerance of drunken behaviour in A&E, and a nightly rate in pubs to pay for policing.

The strategy will also include measures to prevent alcoholics buying drinks or being facilitated to do so on premises.

(Translated by Marie-Thérèse Slorach, email – marietherese.slorach@gmail.com)

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