Page last updated at 11:22 GMT, Thursday, 29 January 2009

'Vodka, homework and me'

Jamie Berry
BBC3 producer/director

Person drinking
Hospital admissions linked to alcohol use have risen

Childhood should be "alcohol-free", according to England's chief medical officer.

Sir Liam Donaldson says the medical advice shows it is safest for under-15s not to drink.

The BBC Three documentary 'Vodka, Homework & Me' has followed 11-year-old Reece and Charlie, 15, over the last three months as they try to give up drinking and overcome its damaging effects.

It tastes really nice - it's bubbly
Charlie, 15

Reece had been drinking every other weekend from the age of 10.

He says "I'd get money off my mum, save it up for two week, then I'd spend it.

"I'd spend it on beers mostly and munchies and McDonalds and all sorts of that stuff."

By the time Reece and his friends had clubbed their pocket money together they could afford up to 36 cans of lager and two bottles of vodka.

Fifteen-year-old Charlie has drunk virtually every weekend since she was 12.

She buys the drink with pocket money or her school dinner money.

For just 4 Charlie can buy six pints of fizzy white wine that is 7.5% proof.

She said: "It tastes really nice, it's bubbly. It's just got one of them sweet tastes."

It costs her less to drink than go to the local cinema.

A litre of vodka

The World Health Organisation has identified excessive alcohol use as one of the most important risks to health and Britain has the fourth highest levels of underage drinking in Europe.

The North West of England has the highest number of underage drinkers in the country.

The latest statistics show that 90% of 15-16 year old school children drink alcohol.

Since the 1990's the amount that 11-15 year olds drink each week has risen from five units to 11 units.

The Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool treats nearly 250 children each year under the age of 16 for the effects of alcohol.

Teenagers drinking
Teenagers can feel under pressure from their peers to drink

Thirteen-year-old Sam who is bought in by ambulance after drinking a litre of vodka to himself. It cost him just 8.

He is lucky enough to have not done himself any lasting damage but he is an example of the types of young people the nurses are regularly seeing in A&E.

Reece and Charlie were lucky enough to be put in touch with a charity called the Glaciere Project which teaches scuba diving and sailing, and has turned even hardened young drinkers away from the bottle.

Peer pressure

Charlie has completely changed her drinking habits.

With the help of Glaciere and the support of his parents Reece has also made great progress.

He has managed to go for three months without touching alcohol. But it has not been an easy journey for him.

"There's one group of people telling me to have a drink and then there's another group of people telling me not to have a drink, he says.

As the cost has gone down the consumption has gone up
Stephen Hood - consultant gastroenterologist, Aintree hospital.

As well as his friends telling him to drink Reece must also deal with adverts encouraging him to buy alcohol.

His mother Rowena said: "It definitely makes life difficult for Reece because all around him there's advertisements of alcohol on telly, on streets, in shops."

Birthday hope

Helen is 25 and now suffers from alcohol related liver disease.

She started drinking at 13 and by the time she was 18 she was addicted.

She has now been told she has a 50% chance of surviving to 30 if doesn't stop drinking excessively.

Helen said: "You get addicted to it like a drug addict, like a heroin addict gets addicted.

"People don't think of it like that but it's advertised all over the place which I personally think it shouldn't be for people like me."

Her doctor is Stephen Hood, a consultant gastroenterologist at Aintree hospital.

He has seen an alarming rise in the number of people coming into his hospital with serious alcohol related liver disease.

"In five years our admission figures for diagnoses related to alcohol problems have increased from 1,400 per year to 2,500.

"The number of admissions for cirrhosis has gone up three times.

"Alcohol consumption has increased and one of the things is the relative cost. As the cost has gone down the consumption has gone up."

The latest statistics show that in 2006 49 people in their twenties died from liver disease, the highest number on record.

For Helen it is a very real struggle not to become another statistic.

"I want to stop because I'll be dead next year if I don't. I'm 25 and I want to reach my 26th birthday."

Vodka, Homework and me - 29th January on at 9pm on BBC Three

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