Alcohol is a drug. Studies show that more young people experience problems caused by drinking too much alcohol than from drug use. Alcohol causes ten times as much damage to the young compared with other drugs.
By 13, young people may have started drinking in groups, in a park or at parties. The group may be passing round cans or bottles and may drink quickly because they are afraid of being found out or because they want to get drunk.
Experimental drinking can lead to severe intoxication, which is more dangerous for children and adolescents than for adults. Young people experience coma at lower blood alcohol levels and can develop hypoglycaemia (low levels of blood sugar), hypothermia and breathing difficulties.
Everyone who has a drink problem started as a social or sensible drinker.
Driving ability is affected after even one drink.
- The UK chief medical officers recommend an alcohol-free childhood is the healthiest and best option.
- Research shows that the earlier a child starts drinking, the higher their chances of developing alcohol abuse or dependence in their teenage years and adult life.
- In 2014, 38% of 11 to 15 year olds had tried alcohol at least once, the lowest proportion since the survey began.
- Almost 65,000 young people every year need treatment in hospital A&E departments because of alcohol.
- UK teenagers are amongst those most likely in Europe to report frequently drinking heavily and being intoxicated.
A thousand young people under 15 are admitted to UK hospitals each year with acute alcohol intoxication. All need emergency treatment, many in intensive care.
Alcohol reduces will power. Good intentions are harder to achieve after a few drinks. Young people may find themselves going further than they wanted to. Unwanted pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases can result from ‘unplanned’ sex.
- More and more young people are choosing not to drink alcohol or are waiting until they are older. The latest figures show only 10% of 11-15 year olds drank in the last week. However, those who do drink are drinking a lot more than 10 years ago. For some of them, “drinking alcohol” may equal “getting drunk”.
- Where do they get alcohol from? In 2016, 28% of pupils aged 11-15 in England said that they had obtained alcohol in the last four weeks. The most common ways of obtaining alcohol were: to be given it by parents or guardians (70%), given it by friends (54%), to take it from home with permission (41%), or to ask someone else to buy it (35%).
- If and when those 11-15 year olds drank alcohol, they were most likely to do so in their own home (62%), at parties with friends (43%), someone else’s home (41%), or somewhere outside (13%).
Set clear limits that you can enforce. Boundaries will help you to protect your children and yourself. State clearly and often what you think is appropriate alcohol use and what is not. Children need to hear clear statements of your values and they need to see that you are willing to enforce the rules. Discover if your child understands what your views on alcohol are and why you hold them.
If your child seems curious about alcohol, talk about it. Be sure to tell them about the negative side as well as the social side. Try not to make it sound too glamorous.
Discuss with your child the ways that they might need to help a friend who is very unwell as a result of drinking excessive alcohol. Talk about the dangers of becoming unconscious, inhaling vomit, hypothermia etc. Make sure they understand how important it is to involve a caring and responsible adult. Explore with your child creative ways that they can say “No, I’ve had enough ” or “No thanks, I’m not drinking” and still maintain the respect of their peers.
Talk about the fact that alcohol reduces inhibitions and decreases will power. Some young people regret their first sexual encounter that took place after consuming too much alcohol. Remind daughters that they can say “No”, firmly and mean it! Remind sons that “No” means “No and Stop” it never means “Maybe” or “Yes”.
Find out what alcohol education is provided in your child’s school. Do you think it is adequate – does it reflect your views? If not, what will you do about it? Consider your own pattern of drinking. What unspoken messages are you giving to your children about alcohol? Is it time to change?
Decide what you will do to ensure that your child has the information he or she needs to have fun and stay safe.“Children’s attitudes and behaviours are initially shaped by families – both directly, in that parents act as role models, and indirectly, in that levels of family support, control and conflict are linked to teenage drinking. A sensible drinking example set by parents seems to be particularly important as both abstainers and heavy drinkers are more likely to have heavy drinking children.” (Velleman, R 1992 The development of drinking behaviour in families.) Try using this quote as a basis for a family discussion