Friday, April 27, 2007

Kids and alcohol

Alcohol Concern, a British NGO that aims at reducing alcohol misuse and the problems that it creates, has released new data on British children's alcohol use.

Britain is one of the worst binge drinking countries in Europe, I think only Ireland, Russia and Finland consume more potable ethanol per capita. Going through any town center on a Friday evening is a sad experience. Regardless of the weather most girls are wearing next to nothing, there are loads of very young (at least they look young...) people totally inebriated, loud, falling over, vomiting etc.

AC now suggests that in addition to the usual measures of rising taxes for alcohol, restricting advertising etc., giving alcohol to under 15 year olds should be made illegal. General drinking age is 18, so if you're under that, you can't buy alcohol from shops or bars. This is regularly tested using underage test buyers and shops and pubs might lose licenses if they fail the test i.e. sell to the under 18's. Shockingly enough, about a fifth of the outlets will fail in these tests. But, so far it has been OK for parents or other adults to give alcohol to kids, which IMO is OK, if the kids are, say 16 and there's a birthday or a dinner, and they want to join in the toast of sparkly or have wine with food. But surely there is a lower age limit to that as well? Sure there is, and in Britain it is five (5) years. 5 years? "Here's your pint, son, happy 6th birthday!?!"

I so wish this was a joke. But alas, no. There have been reports of 8 year old addicts, and there were news today about a 10 year old who has been caught by the police about 60 times, brought in for making trouble, mostly when he's been drunk. A 10 year old! In court he would then cry and say he's sorry and they'd let him out and he'd do the same thing again. They said in the story (that I heard being discussed on TV, it was run in a tabloid, I haven't seen the original story, so might be giving false info here) that he had been behaving badly since he was three. My god, what are his parents (or a parent) doing? Now they have a court order to keep him in between 9pm and 7am. Well, for most families out there (I hope) that's the normal way to keep track of a ten year old anyway, even without the ASBO.

AC reveal in their study that the amounts that 11-13 year olds drink are in a sharp rise. They say in their press release that "The amount of alcohol consumed by girls aged between 11-13 has increased by 82.6% between 2000-2006, while for boys the number has gone up by 43.4% during the same period." Take a guess how many pints would an 11 - 13 -year old have, on the weeks when they are drinking? Boys would have the equivalent of an average of 12!! pints of beer in a week, girls would do 8. That is about three to four times as much as I would have in an average week.

Of course, that average is only for those who have been drinking and only for those weeks they've been drinking, not the national average consumption for that age bracket (although that's what the BBC story said before they fixed it...). But it's shocking enough.

Some people oppose the law as they say it is unenforceable. And some say that it would prevent a "normal" introduction to alcohol, little by little, among the family, at dinners etc. I'd say go for it. Nobody's going to raid the homes where the 15 year old has a half a glass of wine with sunday roast or a glass of champagne to toast on grandpa's 80th birthday. But it would give the police a tool to do something about those parents who are unable or unwilling to perform the role of a responsible parent.

All this just shows again how the relationship to booze in general is totally twisted here. The same goes for Finland. It seems that every effort to make alcohol less available leads to a rise in consumption (forbidden fruit etc.), just like every effort to "Europeanise" the drinking culture (i.e. increase the availability of alcohol) results in new records in the amounts consumed. If nothing is done, consumption rises as well. It seems that whatever you do in terms of alcohol policy it is very likely to go wrong. That's probably because drinking too much is often a symptom of something else being wrong, in addition to being caused by the varying levels of mental and physical addiction to alcohol itself. People might medicate their social problems with booze, but the society shouldn't expect to be able to solve the said social problems with booze policy.

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