Alcohol consumption in young people appears to be becoming more and more common, and it is often consumed to excess. According to drinkaware.co.uk, the average age that a person tries alcohol for the first time is 13.3 years old, and 38% of 11 to 15 year olds have tried alcohol. Although this figure is the lowest it has been in recent years, there are still worrying trends, with almost 14,000 teens admitted to hospital with alcohol related problems between 2013 and 2014.
From the end of primary school, experimenting with alcohol can begin. It is often the parents who offer their children a few sips during special occasions (birthdays, Christmas, etc.). The phenomenon intensifies throughout secondary school, and practically explodes in university.
Why are young people getting drunk?
Just like previous generations, young people’s motivations for drinking alcohol are still social pressure, the need to unwind and to forget about family or school stresses. However, there is also a very strong desire for thrill seeking among adolescents. Modern society values the strongest, the fastest, the most impressive. Young people, in order to stand out from their peers, therefore engage in dangerous practices such as binge drinking: consuming large quantities of alcohol in one sitting, usually during celebrations or nights out.
This extreme practice doubles the risks of alcohol dependency, and increases the risks of anxiety and depression, particularly in women, after only 5 or 6 nights of such behaviour. Additionally, alcohol destroys the neurons, and for some women in their late teens/early twenties, it can lead to liver disease.
The alcohol industry however appears to be taking little responsibility…. In fact, they target young people with attractive and colourful bottles and new sweeter, less bitter flavours, intended to appeal to adolsecents.
To add to the problem, the heroes of television series that are popular among 12 to 25 year olds regularly and casually drink alcohol, and smoke weed without a second thought.
What are the risks?
We need to remember that alcohol works in two phases: after a few glasses, it makes people disinhibited, euphoric, it reduces shyness and helps people communicate more easily. However, when the doses are much higher, it depresses the central nervous system, and “switches off” brain activity. In this phase, people start to find it difficult to walk, coordinate their movements, and can even pass out.
On student nights out, many young people fall rapidly into a state of unconsciousness. In this case, it is necessary to call the emergency services to ensure that their tongue is not blocking the airways. The person should be put into the recovery position. Women in such a condition can be more vulnerable to sexual aggression.
How can these excesses be prevented?
Parents play a vital role in educating their children about alcohol consumption. However, in the UK, alcohol is now a part of our social culture, and the majority of festivities include high levels of alcohol consumption. Parents are also part of this culture, although these are the people who are supposed to be educating their children about the health risks of alcohol. All alcohol consumption should be banned before the age of 15 – this includes a sip of wine at Christmas dinner: alcohol is not a harmless substance.
When adolescents are approaching the age of majority, parents should continue to set limits around alcohol. If your teenager breaks the rules and comes home drunk or sick from alcohol, wait until the next morning to demand explanations. Why did they go over the agreed limits? Were they trying to do the same as their friends? Are they going to do it again?
Be firm, without being threatening or trying to frighten them, about respecting the rules and the laws as regards alcohol consumption before the age of 18. After this age, it is much more difficult to set limits and rules.