Friday, March 14, 2008

Lancet urges parents to act on underage drinking

Parents should take the greatest share of responsibility for steering teenagers away from binge drinking, according to an editorial in the Lancet. It said underage drinking had risen substantially during the past 10 years, and nearly one-third of teenagers were now binge drinkers.

Early abuse of alcohol increased the risk of serious health problems for teenagers, with more falling prey to fatal accidents, self-harm, suicide, violent behaviour, unprotected sex, alcohol dependence and liver disease, the journal said. Learning to enjoy alcohol, in moderation, was "an important part of growing up" in many societies, but it was a lesson not being taught in the UK.

In Britain and Ireland, young people are drinking more than ever before - and often substantially more than in the US, France and Mediterranean countries. According to the Lancet, 27% of British 15-year-olds admit to having had at least five alcoholic drinks in a row in the past month, up from 22% in 1995, and 29% of teenage girls binge drink. Nearly half of the alcohol drunk by young people comes from the family home, with the rest from supermarkets, shops, off-licences and bars.

"The biggest share, and burden, of the partnership must fall on parents and guardians who should take greater responsibility for teaching children about drinking safely. Creating a culture in which alcohol is enjoyed in moderation, perhaps diluted, and is drunk with food as part of sharing a meal together rather than drunk alone, is helpful. For a healthy younger generation, society's relationship with alcohol has to change, beginning in the home," the journal said.

The government is due to publish its Youth Alcohol Action Plan later this year, which aims to tackle parental alcohol misuse and improve alcohol education in schools. "Unless the UK government bans alcohol advertising, substantially raises taxes on alcohol, restricts its availability and seriously debates increasing the legal purchasing age to 21, an opportunity will be lost," the editorial said.

Alcohol taxes did go up in Wednesday's budget, adding 4p on beer, 14p on wine and 55p on spirits. Nigel Evans, the Tory MP for Ribble Valley and vice chairman of the all-party beer group, said the extra tax on beer would not tackle binge drinking, but would accelerate pub closures.

The Lancet said young people who misused alcohol often had symptoms of conduct disorder, anxiety, or depression, some of which may be signs of future alcohol dependence. Parents who misused alcohol or who had broken relationships with their children increased the chances of their sons and daughters drinking.

Adults should be willing to intervene when necessary. "It should not be acceptable for doctors, teachers or parents to turn a blind eye or offer no follow-up when a child is in hospital with a head injury after drinking, when a teenager truants to drink, or when a 15-year-old goes to bed drunk," the editorial added.

source: The Guardian


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