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Friday, 2 March, 2001, 15:36 GMT
Drink and drugs: Why are UK teenagers the worst?

Teenagers from the UK have taken more drugs, drunk more alcohol and smoked more cigarettes than their European counterparts, a new survey has revealed.

Nearly 40% of British teenagers said they had tried substances including cannabis and ecstasy according to research commissioned by the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and other Drugs (ESPAD), which interviewed thousands of teenagers in 30 European countries.

The UK has the strictest laws on drinking and drug taking in the EU, yet Britain is ahead of other European nations in terms of binge drinking, and regular daily smoking.

What can to done to curb the drinking and drug habits of teenagers in the UK? Are the other European countries behaving more sensibly in their attitudes to drugs and drink?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

If the laws weren't that strict, it wouldn't be that bad. Interesting to note that the UK has the strictest controls on alcohol in terms of when you can buy it, are where you can buy it. We also are probably the most puritanical country regarding drug use, not to mention the fact that we are the least open country with regard to discussing sex, especially teaching kids about it. And for all these efforts we have the worst record of drink-related problems, drugs-related problems, and under-age pregnancies. It's not difficult to see where the problems lie. The more you "ban" something the more attractive it becomes, especially to kids. If we were to make the smoking of pipes illegal tomorrow I would bet you anything you like that within a week we would see 15 year olds walking around smoking them, or trying to buy them, or whatever.
Simon Moore, UK

We have problems like every other nation, but our young people are on the whole more mature and well-adjusted than in Britain. I just returned from a week-long trip to the U.K. yesterday. I was amazed that whether I was in Richmond, Kingston, or Chelsea, the streets were filled with intoxicated young people looking for trouble. We see the same thing here in the US, but the problem is just not as pervasive as it is in the U.K. One possible reason is the extraordinarily high cost of entertainment in England. I went to one night club in Kingston where it cost 7 just to get in, another 1 to check your coat, and 3 for a beer. Even the price of a movie is out of reach for many. So people take to the streets. Local communities in Britain must work harder to offer low-cost, drug-free entertainment for its children and young adults.
Evan S, USA

Unfortunately most of them don't seem to have parents or teachers to tell them otherwise

Colin Steward, UK
Parents and the Government are letting us all down. Parents for not taking responsibility for their own children and dealing with them when problems arise and government for it's slack attitude. When political correctness went mad, so did all control. Now teachers and police can't do a thing about children behaving badly which leads to a worse situation. Children left to their own devices will, through their own immaturity, make all the wrong decisions. Unfortunately most of them don't seem to have parents or teachers to tell them otherwise.
Colin Steward, UK

I spent two years working in the UK at the mature age of 34. Out of personal choice I neither drink nor smoke. What struck me as odd was the reaction of surprise that I got from my mates when we went out and I ordered a soft drink. Had I been younger and impressionable their tacit pressure would have forced me to drink, even against my will. I was equally surprised at the large numbers of young people who smoke, contrary to studies trying to prove that smoking is a dying habit that is now consigned to the Third World.
Munya, South Africa

The problem has a lot to do with our ridiculous licensing laws. The culture of drinking very heavily during opening hours would change substantially if people were able to enjoy a more relaxed night out rather than cramming as much drink down their throats as possible before last orders. We should also look at policies which would stagger pub closing times so there would not be that horrendous chucking out hour or two when large numbers of inebriated people emerge into the world at large. I totally agree that the problems have a lot to do with culture - but these are at best only things which can be tackled in the long term - its time for some more practical short-term solutions.
Laura, UK

Following on from the point made by Dick Dunmore of the UK that the UK set-up is geared towards making it easy to get drunk, I find that in this country as a rule pubs give priority to standing room rather than seating in order to pack in as many people as possible. This leads to uncomfortable crowding (especially on Friday and Saturday nights). Add to that thumping loud music and you end up and noise levels which render normal conversation impossible. This leads to more alcohol being consumed from sheer boredom. By contrast continental bars (and I have visited bars in France, Belgium, Italy and Switzerland) always have more seating than standing room, (even British style pubs) and most provide table service. This leads to a much more civilised drinking experience and one which is much less conducive to getting drunk.
Jane, Wales, UK

Do you really believe everything these surveys tell you? Drink and drug problems are on the increase in every country around the world, and in Norway they also have these surveys. However the drinking of Hjemmebrent ( illegal 96% homemade spirit) is what most young people drink a lot of. This is never shown in any survey. I am sure our country is not the only one that has many hidden heavy drinkers that do not appear in any survey. The government is fully aware of this yet by raising taxes on legal alcohol to an unbelievable level, the Norwegian kids cannot afford beer or cider so they drink 96% alcohol. Well done the Norwegian government! Maybe you haven't got it as bad as you believe in England.
Eric, Norway

Everything in England is doom and gloom

Kay Gilmore, Australia
I have been teaching in England for the last 5 years and have just returned to Australia (Aug 2000) to teach. There is a marked difference in the attitude of English kids to education, family life, their country. Everything in England is doom and gloom - the TV shows especially portray the gloomier side of life and certainly having a drink is shown as a way to escape from your problems.
Kay Gilmore, Australia

In the United States, drug use is actually higher among adults then among teens, even though politicians like to spin the truth, and as a result the "Drug War" was doomed from the start. I would hate to see the same thing happen in England. The fact is, a more laissez-faire attitude on the part of Britain's Government would do some good, in my opinion. If they didn't regulate so many parts of everyone's lives, everything from wages and taxes to drugs and freedom of speech, there would probably be a much more active and vibrant community as a whole.
Jake, USA

What a lame excuse that kids have nothing to do except drink, they have more now than ever. Computers, sports halls, snooker clubs, and almost everywhere has somewhere to play a game of football or cricket. And then there's the excuse that children with strict parents are more likely to become alcoholics. The only problem is too many pubs full of too many idiots who aren't mature enough to know the different between enjoying a drink and abusing it.
Matt, UK

I am nearly 38, but with no kids of my own. Seeing the "Me First" culture all day, every day, leads me only to one conclusion. Many parents are so wrapped up in their own "I want" worlds that they have forgotten how to think of anything but themselves. The children copy this anti-social behaviour, hence the existence of so many out-of-control, obnoxious children. Not many parents are able to make that connection, so it gets worse, year on year. What can we do? Not much, I fear.
Simon Devine, England

I am sure that weakness on my part is responsible for the volume of alcohol I consume when I go out but I just can't help it. Pubs and clubs abroad seem more relaxed than our own with a better atmosphere. In Britain you have three types of places you can drink. The seedy pub with the old man who has never in his life left the bar, the loud night club which is often more like a youth club and the inner-city business type bars. I do have to say that I prefer the inner-city bars because of their relaxed atmosphere and their patrons are generally less aggressive than others. You can talk in places like that as well.
John Smith, UK

All it needs is a few role models to speak out against booze

Allister Prow, Barbados, WI
All it needs is a few role models to speak out against booze. The Beckhams perhaps? If boys knew that you couldn't train after 6 pints of lager or that drinking makes you fat then surely kids might think twice. It is the pressure these youngsters are under from both retailers (remember alcoholic lemonade?) and their peers that makes them succumb. Why not have a campaign similar to the supermodels against fur one to get that message home. "No thanks mate, I've got footie training tomorrow".
Allister Prow, Barbados, WI

Drinking is not a youth problem; it is an adult problem. If the country didn't have such a huge adult drinking culture, it wouldn't be such an obvious thing for teenagers to do - at least not regularly and in large quantities, as is the case now. The whole UK set-up is geared towards making it easy to get drunk. I should know - I've still got a hangover from last night!
Dick Dunmore, UK

As long as the ridiculous opening hours of pubs are maintained we will always have this trouble. If we knew we had all night to drink we wouldn't try and cram 8 pints into 3 hours. The violence associated with drunkenness is also to do with throwing the entire drinking population onto the streets at 11.30, drunk, with nowhere else to go. As for drugs, many people would probably go insane without them, stuck in this stressed-out, ripped-off, overworked and overpopulated society, ignored by politicians and preached at about the joys of Dickens by oldies with their heads in the sand.
Dre, Brit in Argentina

Here in Finland we also have very strict alcohol laws and high taxes. We're also a heavy-drinking country where being intoxicated by alcohol is socially accepted, unlike in central/ southern Europe where attitudes towards the substance itself are more liberal.
Pirkka, Finland

The British are victims of their own conservative backgrounds as they still tend to have problems facing "new" elements in their society. This "island-behaviour" could lead to isolation from the rest of Europe, and this will do Britain no good. I think youngsters are victims of this old way of thinking, they don't feel at home in their own country. Drinking and drugs are ways out of this. If we trusted and guided our children better, with better education and support, it would make a big difference. Conservative thinking is not always bad, but please don't be afraid of new (or foreign) ways of thinking, Britain!
Jeroen Ouwerkerk, Dutch, living in the UK

Britain has the highest percentage of working mothers in Europe - now, I wonder if there might be a connection?
Trisha, UK

Having travelled to most parts of Europe, I believe it is wrong to compare the UK to Italy or other south European countries. The weather and the lack of sunlight does induce more drinking, as anyone who has been to Scandinavia or the Baltic States will know. All of these people, when they can, drink like mad.
Edward Christie, Austria

Youngsters today are listened to more than ever before

John, UK
In answer to SM, youngsters today are listened to more than ever before. Why are they bored? Why is boredom an excuse for this type of behaviour? What do they want to do so that they are no longer bored? Has boredom just been invented? Are hormones a new phenomenon? Is the prospect of a boring job a recently introduced concept? The short answer to all of these questions is no.
John, UK

So having nothing to do is an excuse for drunkenness now is it? When I was a teenager there was nothing to do in my village. I couldn't even use the bus to get out as there were only about four buses a day, and everything stopped at around 6pm when the last shop closed. The problem now is that kids expect "to be entertained" and have lost the ability to entertain themselves. Reading a book might seem "boring", but it won't pickle your liver and won't get you a criminal record.
Dave T, UK

Do not treat them as something less than adults

When I was young I turned to drink for the following reasons: I always felt like an outsider. Teachers and adults never valued my thoughts and contributions, I was a second class citizen because of my age. Yet when I went out on the weekends and drank I forgot all about that, and for a few hours I felt on top of the world. My advice is value youth and treat them as our future, do not treat them as something less than adults. They are just at a different stage in life than us grown-ups. If we don't show them respect as humans then they won't show society any respect either. That is the terrible situation we have right now.

I think the Government should put more effort into education for the youngsters - it's important for their health. Also, social crime may increase as some youngsters may have no money to buy drugs so the Government must not neglect this great problem!
Raymond Lo, Hong Kong

Young people today go to Europe to buy cheap alcohol and dodgy substances. Many previous generations were sent there to slaughter each other. And the world is meant to be getting worse? I don't think so...
Andrew, UK

If your future is going to consist of fifty or sixty years cooped up like a battery human in a call-centre, chemicals are the way to go.
Naz, UK

We have licensing laws designed to stop people getting drunk during wartime

Gary, UK
Hindsight is a tremendous thing. Having been young (once) AND now being a police officer that's rolled around on the pavement subduing 18 year olds completely out of their skulls on strong lager, I suppose I've seen both sides of the coin. We have licensing laws designed to stop people getting drunk during wartime. We have a society that says 'good time = alcohol and measures your success or credibility by the type and amount of bottled beer you drink. Yet we tear into our young people for sitting in windy recreation grounds drinking cheap cider, or hanging around outside all night stores with the sole purpose of acquiring booze or fags, yet we really don't give them an alternative other than rhetoric.

I'm told constantly by citizens that I should be arresting these kids and locking them up because they are intimidating and rowdy. I've yet to find anything on the statute books that makes it an offence to be young, full of hormones and bored. I'm afraid I don't have an answer for you other than young people are our investment for the future and we should be seriously investing in them and not just expecting them to be cherubic and omnipotent. If they are treated as the enemy the will respond as the enemy.
Gary, UK

The excuse of "they've got nothing else to do" is nonsense. I grew up in a rural countryside village where there was literally NOTHING to do. I never felt the need to fight, vandalise or thieve and I never drank anything till I was 17. There was nobody to fight with, no shops, no pubs or bars, no night-clubs, no drug pushers, nothing. At times I considered it the most boring life imaginable, but now I have grown up and moved to a town, I can see that the main reason I never took drugs or booze when I was younger is because of where I lived.
Owen, UK

I believe that the problem is caused by the fact that the main places to meet others in this country is in pubs and clubs, and drinking beer is a lot cheaper than the alternatives (Coke, lemonade, orange juice, etc). Maybe if these alternatives to alcohol were to be made cheaper, then some people at least would prefer to drink non-alcoholic drinks.
Steve Wehrle, UK

Many of the comments made are valid. I can mention a good virtue of the English, unique among many Europeans, is our ability to analyse and graciously accept criticism of our faults. Surely that's something we can be proud of?

Secondly you shouldn't group all British youth as yobs, it isn't the case. Admittedly there is a deep rooted cultural problem. How you rectify this problem is difficult. It should start with the media, then the countries politicians (note William Hague's comments about him drinking 10 glasses of beer doesn't help) and move down through society, and for the end result for it simply not to be socially acceptable for public drunkenness, "public" being the operative word. People seem proud when they announce they "got plastered over the weekend", and the recipient of this statement meets it with congratulatory glee. This should stop! It is as simple as that!
Peter Kyne, England

Are we all forgetting what it felt like to be young and impressionable. There are a lot of valid comments on this site which I have found very interesting. I agree that a more direct approach with children is called for. I have used a lot of drugs in my past but gave it all up in my early 20's as I knew I could enjoy my life just as much, if not more without. So I will take this knowledge and use it on my children, if they start to get curious about these things I will let them know all that they want to know. With this information I am not saying that this will stop them from experimenting, but who can stop a teenager who believes that they know everything, but it will make there decisions more informed. Perhaps the next generation will benefit from the experiences of this one.
Lisa, Germany (UK)

Waiting for society/government to change so we have no excuse to get drunk is ridiculous

Harry, UK
I am sickened by all those who are blaming society for the drinking habits of themselves and today's youth, only one person picks up the glass, no one ever forced me to take a drink. Waiting for society/government to change so we have no excuse to get drunk is ridiculous, instead of moaning about "no alternative" why not stop drinking and see how different your life can be, then see how you can effect the change in attitude to alcohol. But on a disciplinary point how about the fact that we are the last EEC country to have ID Cards? and also why not prosecute the manufacturers/breweries when one of their premises serves an under-18 instead of the manager/landlord, and prosecute them with equal treatment to drug dealers, after all that is what they are.

Third ban all TV advertising as was done for tobacco, and four put more tax on alcohol and offset the insane prices of other essential commodities. But very important is education I started at 12 years old and the only thing I knew was that drink would make me feel "better" or "happier" no one told me about the consequences and it took me 25 years to figure it out.
Harry, UK

Some say "what else is there for youngsters to do?". What else? How about reading books (yeah, remember the good old books, from Tolkien to Tolstoy?), playing music, enjoying creative hobbies? What about karate, soccer, dance? No, I cannot agree that the UK or any other youngsters have nothing else to do but get intoxicated. It's the culture, silly. The culture of inhibition and stiffness as opposed to the relaxed enjoyment of bon vivre.
Daniel, Australia

As usual, the UK contributors analyse their problems by stating either "at least we're not as bad as the States" or "just another example of us being too much like the States." It is really quite sad that important issues have to be discussed relative to the US. Such impotent thinking won't solve any problems especially teenage drug abuse.
Larry Chen, USA

We need to rethink our whole attitude to kids and family life

Sally Hyde, France
As a Brit living in Paris I have noticed a big difference in the way children are raised. They are part of the community whereas in England they are sidelined and left out. They are nothing more than a nuisance. We need to rethink our whole attitude to kids and family life. If they can have more satisfying relationships they won't need drugs, booze and fags.
Sally Hyde, France

When I recently visited Rotterdam I was surprised to learn that the owner of the coffee shop (i.e. cannabis smoking cafe) I was in didn't smoke it himself. I asked why not and he explained: "It's a free country."
Matt H, UK

I'll tell you why teenagers and such drink beer.... because it can be good fun. I'm 24 and enjoy meeting my mates down my local for a few bevvies and those nights are always good humoured and immense fun. So everyone relax and have a drink!
Paul, England

Anyone fancy a pint?
Old Henry, UK

Why not compare us to American youths?

Duncan Drury, UK
Why not compare us to American youths? America is even more proscriptive than the UK. The result? The world's highest population of drug takers and binge drinkers.
Duncan Drury, UK

It's the lousy weather which keeps people indoors with little to do!
Bernard Marcazzo, Switzerland

Having spent two years at university in the UK, I can only say that I found Brits amazingly childish and immature for their age, with a definite lack of culture. Perhaps they should spend more time reading good books rather than watching stupid TV programmes. I believe this is what makes them so susceptible to binge drinking and drug taking. Also they seem to lack any respect for family values, often displaying hostility to their parents and other family members.
Felipe, Brazil

Thanks, BBC, for giving us this forum to express our concerns about teenage drug/alcohol abuse. Why, though, does Radio 1 glamorise bingeing by devoting Saturday mornings, and other shows, to allowing teens/ 20-somethings to ring in and boast about how trashed/ hung-over they are, while some right-on DJ tells them how cool they are? And there's a clear, yet unspoken, suggestion that some of these people are experiencing a drug comedown. It indulges people in their excesses, which are now as acceptable and 'normal' as they are endemic.
Luke, UK

Until we get our priorities straight this problem will not go away

Kate Donovan, Canada
Well this problem is not isolated to the UK. Over here in Canada and indeed in America we have the same problem which as you see in the news almost daily has escalated into guns and violence. I think it's a world problem really. People and in particular teenagers have become desensitised to everything and escape the boredom of real life with drugs and alcohol. I think we have forgotten what is really important in life and until we get our priorities straight this problem will not go away.
Kate Donovan, Canada

I've always thought that no one could compete with Polish teenagers when considering heavy drinking. In my country drinking till losing consciousness is nothing extraordinary. On the contrary, it's the reason for being proud. "The more drunk you are, the cooler you are" seems to be the motto of today's Polish youth.
Agnieszka, Poland

I have to say I am surprised by this poll. As a Scot living in Brussels I have never seen so many young people who are smoking and it's almost constantly. They are always in the bars too. Here, for example the smoking sections are way bigger than the non smoking, which tells you that Europeans indulge in this habit more than Britons.
Patrick McFadyen, Belgium

It seems to me that the use of drugs and alcohol can be illustrated through the analogy of water. The greater it is suppressed or confined, the greater the effect when it is released. The same can be said for drugs and alcohol. The more an activity or product is suppressed, the greater the interest from people, especially the younger curious generations. History proves this analogy; just look at Prohibition in the United States.
James Johnson, Jakarta, Indonesia

The English insular spirit has much to do with the Japanese one

Eric, Japan
I quite agree with Mr Alonzo. I have been living in Japan for a while, and noticed the English insular spirit has much to do with the Japanese one. In a relatively closed world, self-centred society, many people get desperate to socialise. Descriptions made above of some alcohol-related behavioural problems the youth may face in the UK remind me of my Japanese pals here: they don't enjoy the party their own way, they just rush and have a binge. That's the orthodox way to "enjoy" the party, alcohol freeing minds from everyday life restrictive bonds.
Eric, Japan

In the United States, youngsters may drive (on average) six years before they may drink. For some reason, it still surprises some people that American teenagers use every chance to get drunk and risk their lives by driving in such condition. Thinking about it brings me the rare feeling of happiness about being Russian. I learned to drink much earlier than I learned to drive, and I would never risk operating machinery under the influence of intoxicating substances. I hope the UK is going to avoid the US experience caused by radical American puritanism. Your goal shouldn't be to curb drug and alcohol consumption. After all, the greatest poets wrote odes to wine.
Andrej, Russia

It is ironic that two of the countries with the most draconian "anti-drug" laws have the least control over drug use, while Dutch teens, who can buy cannabis in any cafe, have better things to do with their time than get bombed. Isn't it obvious that by making something illegal one is creating an "attractive nuisance" which will draw curious teens far more strongly than if it were legal and regulated? We are all accomplices in this nasty, vicious, hypocritical game.
Andrew, USA

In my view there's a lot of insecurity and loneliness in the life of youngsters. The only way to resolve this problem is to have strong family ties where every member of the family is not living a private life of their own. Therefore I suggest strengthen the family institution and everything will be fine.
Saima, Pakistan

It seems to me the more you try to prohibit something the more rebellious it is to break that prohibition. If we had more sensible policies on drugs maybe they would be looked on in their proper place rather than as a great thing to do to rebel. Prohibition glamorises drugs to our youth. It's a shame that our Government is ruled by the tabloids and US drug policy or we would be able to do something about this situation.
David, UK

Do the young people who blame their drinking on there being nothing else for them to do really think things were any better for previous generations? I was a teenager in the 60s and the real difference then was that we couldn't afford to buy alcohol, pubs were not designed for young people and we would have been told to leave as soon as we walked through the door. These days all the coolest adverts are for alcohol and only show young, attractive people. When I was growing up, being told that "Guinness is good for you" was hardly an encouragement for me to want to try it.
Gill, UK

You can't legislate for common sense

Clive, England
You must be begging for more if you instinctively turn to the state for moral guidance when people are simply unwilling to control their own behaviour. You can define limits, and set standards, but you can't legislate for common sense. If the majority of the population think it's normal to get drunk and behave like morons, no amount of fiddling with pub regulations will matter.
Clive, England

I'm 27. Since the age of about 13 I've been drinking and smoking. So I guess the ultimate question is why? Let me attempt to answer. My generation's culture is accelerating at a pace never before experienced. We have instant solutions to everything. We want entertainment - we turn on the TV or games console, we want to be happy - we get some Prozac from the Doctor, we want information - we log on to the net. With some many ways to instantly gratify ourselves is it any wonder than when things aren't going to well we turn to short term reality escapes. And to add to this we have to deal with global warming, wars we don't understand, governments that don't even understand how to represent youth issues, homelessness, poverty the list goes on and on. We didn't make the world how it is today - our parents' generation did. Perhaps if post-war greed hadn't got the better of the masses we wouldn't have to get smashed to escape this confusing and frightening society.

When teenagers get out of their minds on anything they can get hold of they are going through a rite of passage into adulthood. Every person I grew up with in the UK in the late 80's- mid 90's, smoked, drank and took drugs to excess Thursday - Sunday every week for years. Then you grow up, what is alarming are the large numbers of late 20 -40 year-olds who behave like teenagers and try and emulate teenagers in the pubs, clubs and streets.
D McCarthy, Australia

I was waiting for someone to get around to blaming the US for this particular problem, like the US is blamed for so many others in the UK. When, if ever, will parents be held responsible for the actions of their children? How long does society have to suffer for their failures and neglect? I think that year-round school terms are one of the answers. Most posters here agree that there isn't much for children and teenagers to do, so how about letting them learn? Learn math and language, sports, civic and personal responsibility, health and well-being, other cultures and religions, practical trades and life-skills. The list is never ending.
Linda, USA

The entertainment media and their society glorifies these activities, or passes them off as harmless horseplay

Justin Miller, UK
The superior attitude adopted by some contributors from other nations is somewhat irritating and hardly very representative. I've travelled quite enough to see my fair share of drunk young Canadians, Greeks and Italians and they are no less obnoxious than their British counterparts. The difference is that in this country we seem to have developed a bizarre tolerance for the "Friday/Saturday" night lad culture. Such a culture propagates itself because it is tolerated, and no amount of education, legislation or debating is going to put an end to it. Only when society as a whole adopts the attitude that it not ok to drink yourself into unconsciousness or pump yourself full of drugs will matters improve. You can hardly expect young people not to get drunk and take drugs when the entertainment media and their society glorifies these activities, or passes them off as harmless horseplay.
Justin Miller, UK

In the UK, as in the USA, the governments have created extremely polarised societies through their economic policies, and provided only laws and penalties for the eventual negative behaviour of people within these societies. If you want to stop drug use or any other social problem, look to the real root of the problem.
Isaac, USA

Stricter laws may benefit short-term political gain, but in the long run they do more harm than good

Charles Dean, UK
The fact that we have the most draconian laws in the EU in regards to drink and drugs, and yet we have the highest usage shows that such laws do not work. Perhaps more investment in education and the causes of crime as opposed to the punishment of crime would lead to a change in attitude amongst the target group. Stricter laws may benefit short-term political gain, but in the long run they do more harm than good.
Charles Dean, UK

Maybe more attention needs to be paid to all the adults who are condoning/encouraging excessive drinking in the first place, all the pound a pint deals etc don't help to make drinking unattractive. There is no point in addressing the effect if no one is interested in the cause.
Joanne, The Netherlands

To 'Robbo': wait till you're 45. you'll change your point of view... I would also like to agree with others here, of Italian/Spanish/Greek extraction. Booze isn't an issue in these countries, and getting falling-over drunk (putting it nicely) as a habitual weekend pursuit, as it was when I was a teenager in the UK in the 70's, would be seen as really gross to the majority of Italians of any age group. Unfortunately it still seems to be a vital rite of passage to get regularly and well rat-faced in the UK. Sad, isn't it?
Jane, English in Italy

If it is true that UK teenagers are drinking and taking drugs, and are rude and violent... and if it is also true for them that there are no absolutes in what is right and wrong... could it be that therein lies the problem? Perhaps a survey of church-going youth would show a different picture?
Judy Butler, USA

This country may well have the strictest laws, but there are no policemen on the beat to enforce the laws, and where there are policemen they aren't allowed to touch the offenders. It is high time this Government got its act into order and introduced sensible and realistic deterrents and punishments for these offenders. Enough of the "do-gooders" lets get down to the root cause of the problem and punish the offenders.
Ivan Tollington, England

Other countries are much more civilised than ours

Andrew, Newcastle
On a recent holiday to Greece my girlfriend and I were shown up by several young German men staying in our hotel. Their command of the English language was perfect and we saw them in a few pubs where they seemed to be enjoying themselves without causing trouble. In comparison the English tourists were the stereotypical lager louts shouting and fighting. Other countries are much more civilised than ours, although I have no idea why!
Andrew, Newcastle

You have a choice. Your kids can learn about drink and drugs from you, or from the misfits roaming the streets. Which would you prefer? My friend has a 15-year-old daughter who smokes cigarettes. She allows her child to do this, as she realises if she bans it and acts outraged the girl will carry on - but out of her sight.
Brian Milner, UK

I am continually embarrassed by the behaviour of the small minority in our country who do nothing but promote the very image that the rest of those abroad seem to think we possess, i.e. loud, aggressive, drunk and thug-like. However, it never ceases to amaze me how those outside the UK are quick to tar us with that brush and "bash" on the British at every opportunity while it is viewed as prejudice if we do likewise. Other countries should not be so quick to criticise as they have similar reputations themselves because of certain members of their own societies.
Mike W, USA (UK Citizen)

Maybe the constant stream of dubious statistics about the UK's supposed awfulness at everything and anything is turning us all to drink?
Neil Elkins, UK

You think that mainland UK has problems with youngsters drinking alcohol and taking drugs? Jersey beats that easily. Children as young as 14 are let into nightclubs, those who are not able to enter loiter around the streets drinking. The problem is there's nowhere for them to go, they have nothing else to do. There is nowhere for youngsters to meet up, entrance fees to cinemas are ludicrous and the bowling alley is on the other side of the island. Perhaps if the states put more money into occupying children we wouldn't have to worry about them misusing drugs and drinking vast amounts of alcohol.
Sarah, Jersey, UK

Until these issues are resolved people will continue to search for ways to escape this Orwellian reality that is 21st century Britain

Mike, UK
People seem to be interested in providing solutions to the symptoms of teenage drink and drug abuse, and not the cause. Teenagers, and adults in Britain abuse drink and drugs as a means of escapism. People in Britain work the longest hours, are taxed more highly, and generally have a lower standard of living than their European neighbours. Until these issues are resolved people will continue to search for ways to escape this Orwellian reality that is 21st century Britain.
Mike, UK

I'm 23, and have strong views on alcohol and drugs. I've never been drunk, stoned or high, nor do I wish to be, for many reasons. This has caused me to be ostracised from social groups, bullied at school and very lonely during my three years at university. I enjoy social events, but don't like being stuck with a load of drunk people who all expect me to drive them home, clean them up, and bail them out (literally, on occasion). It seems to be impossible for teenagers/ 20-somethings to go out, have a good time without the aim being to get drunk.
Zoe, England

At least we are 'world leaders' in one field.
Danny, UK

Having spent over 4 years of my life in Paris, I can assure you that if people think that we have a problem here with a smoking culture and in particular cannabis then they should go and live there! Every person I met smoked both joints and cigarettes every day of their lives. It was for me a real eye opener and actually put me off ever smoking. The French have managed to solve the binge drinking problem however, and that is simply by introducing their children to alcohol at a very young age and by doing that taking away the mystery around it.
Tigs, England

UK teenagers are only copying what they see UK adults doing all around them

John, UK
UK teenagers are only copying what they see UK adults doing all around them. The "alcohol culture" is part of many British work places, and even people in responsible positions gain credibility from getting drunk.
John, UK

It's not all bad! I actually think that British kids are generally more clued up about drugs than their European counterparts. Therefore, although more likely to experiment, they are also more capable of giving it up. Like many of my friends, I experimented with drugs from pot to E's - sometimes even chasing a bit of heroin, but started very young. By the time I went to university at 20 I'd grown out of it. From experience I would say this is a very common pattern in this country. Far better to get it out your system in your teens that letting drugs affect your adult life.
Dave Harrison, UK

We as a nation must include the whole family in the alcohol/ drugs issue. It is adults who need educating about these matters to enable them to help their own children. Alcohol dependency is a fatal disease and usually starts in adolescence, a fact that successive governments seem to have missed altogether. It will get progressively worse until the politicians get real as to what our children are trying to battle with on their own.
Alcohol Dependency Association, UK

Isn't all of this down to parents and their attitudes to drink? If dad/ mum does the Friday/ Saturday night thing with the 'boys'/ 'girls', isn't Junior going to emulate this? Also, our attitude towards drunks in public tends to be almost forgiving with a quiet smile - surely this is not the message we want to be sending our children? Is it now time to educate the adults first??
Caroline Price, UK

After speaking to my parents - I've been told drink, drug abuse is no worse now than it was when they were younger - just these days children open up a lot more. In my opinion, instead of wasting money on pointless surveys the Government should be spending the money on proper education for both parents and teenagers on the signs of substance abuse and the dangers. I admit I do drink but I have never taken drugs (although offered to me quite frequently) and don't smoke either. Blaming stars for glamorising smoking is stupid as well. They dont force people to smoke - they don't have that power!
Young Person, Wales

I tried smoking at 13. Nearly 7 years down the line I'm on a 15 a day habit. I'm well educated, I knew the risks, but I still tried it and now I'm addicted. The point is, I tried smoking because I was curious. Not because I thought it would make me seem more 'mature'. The first time I tried alcohol was the same. It was curiosity. Kids will always be curious about the world around them. You can't stop every under 18 person in the UK drinking.
Sharon, UK

The pub chains have the money to invest in new bars and the council is perfectly happy to use this to boost the local economy

Mark B, UK
My hometown of Reading is becoming a good example of these findings. The town centre is now full of youth orientated bars largely frequented by teenage drinkers, all in a headlong rush to get completely trollied. Certain areas of the town centre are best avoided on a Friday night; either one could get assaulted, vomited over or could trip over a teenage 'cider corpse'. The teenagers from surrounding towns and villages invade the town on a weekend, making public transport late at night a nightmare. The reason for this is that the pub chains have the money to invest in new bars and the council is perfectly happy to use this to boost the local economy. In turn, the demand seems to expand with the supply. I am sure other towns have the same problem.
Mark B, UK

My partner is Dutch and we have a 6 week-old daughter. In Holland people are much more open about such issues - for example the age of consent for sex is 12, and the Dutch have the lowest rate of teenage pregnancy in Europe. Parents need to adopt a much more open and broad-minded attitude in this country, rather than sweeping the problems under the carpet and hoping they go away, which, as we have seen, they never do.
Dr. Simon Edwards, UK

It is illegal for under eighteens to go into a pub or off licence in England and buy alcohol. Why then are the majority of under eighteens regularly served? Fake ID, they hand so much money over the bar, the pub or off licence would go bankrupt without them (this is the case in Salisbury, Wilts). Where are the police when this is happening? They are sitting at the side of roads wasting time and taxpayers money stopping motorists for speeding.
Jenny, UK

One has to ask why young people have so little self esteem and are so depressed

Matt, Amsterdam, Netherlands
These are just symptoms of a worse disease. Substance abuse is an indicator of escapism. Let's face it, it is fun every now and then. But to become addicted indicates a deep problem with our youth. The suicide rate for 15-24 year olds has risen 368% since 1960. Anorexia has followed a similar trend, as has substance abuse. One has to ask why young people have so little self esteem and are so depressed. Perhaps it's time to listen to our children a little more, rather than demonising the things that, sadly, have become part of everyday life for them.
Matt, Amsterdam, Netherlands (ex UK)

We have the highest rate of child drink and drug use in Europe and we have the highest rate of child poverty. These two facts are not entirely unrelated.
Paul Bowman, UK

You only have to look at BBC (and ITV) children's TV presenters to see where they get their loud, rude behaviour from.
Ian, England

The British are obsessed by alcohol and getting drunk

Alonzo, Italy
The British are obsessed by alcohol and getting drunk. On the continent we drink to enjoy while in Britain, they just drink to scramble their brains. It will never change and the British will always be the stupid drunken children of Europe, staggering around and causing havoc in the more civilised countries across their beloved Channel.
Alonzo, Italy

To what extent is the current Government's refusal to even consider reform of drug laws related to Tony Blair's goals for a special relationship with America? It is becoming ever clearer that the laws in this country are not having the desired effect and that people in Britain are ready to see some change, even if it is just a reclassification of drugs. Why does the Government persistently refuse to even debate this issue?
Tom, UK

I agree with Susy Fowler. If you want to see how we British set an example to our youngsters go to the shopping centres of Calais!! Lift restrictions at home and things might calm down!
David Firth, UK

I grew up in Australia and now live in London. One of the most noticeable differences between children/ teenagers in each country is that in Australia the climate is more conductive to sport and outdoor activity, whereas the British winter tends to limit sporting activity. It would be interesting to test this by examining the "drinking rates" during the beautiful summertime in the UK. I'd wager the frequency of alcohol/ drug consumption would fall noticeably.
Hamish, UK

In most parts of Europe, drink accompanies food

Emmanuel Mavropulos, Greece
In most parts of Europe, drink accompanies food. Drinking in general is considered a sit-down activity. Ideally, this combination along with good company defines having a good time. There is a lot of savouring involved, and less insistence on quantity and speed. In Britain, no one ever seems to eat anything; everyone drinks standing up and seems to compete to see who'll get drunk first. I have yet to see someone actually enjoying their drink rather than just gulping it down to make way for the next. There's also an interesting lack of stigma about being drunk and disorderly or hung-over, as if it were just one of those things one usually does. Maybe the licensing laws have sort of conditioned the people into drinking like this, but there may be other reasons, such as inhibition and repression.
Emmanuel Mavropulos, Greece

It's very simple. My parents are Italian and we have always had wine around the house. I probably first sipped it - heavily watered down - when I was nine years old. I have grown up respecting alcohol because my parents never "hid it away" as some kind of evil that you can't touch until you're 18. That's the problem with the Brits. Too uptight.
Donaldo Shelliano, Grimsby, UK

Experience everything before your die, live every day to the max and worry not about tomorrow. It's better to burn out than fade away.
Robbo, England

Perhaps if drunkenness was regarded as an aggravating factor instead of a mitigating factor, and drunken crimes were taken seriously, then the incidence might be reduced. I would also like to see drunken thugs held fully to account for their actions - if someone kicks a car in, drunk or not, they should be liable to pay for it. If they can't pay they should then face tougher sanctions until such time that they can.
Karl Peters, UK

Drink and drugs break the monotony of modern existence

Duncan Greenyer, England
The problem is mainly due to boredom, brought about by the mindless rubbish on our TV sets. When I get home at night I don't want to watch depressed East Enders, northern folk in a street, chefs, police dramas or game shows. To escape the unimaginative drivel, pumped into my home via the TV I go out and drink and socialise and so do most young people and teenagers. Drink and drugs break the monotony of modern existence.
Duncan Greenyer, England

I come from an inner city area, full of "victims" of drink and drugs - which includes people affected by the users of drink and drugs. Kids treat it as fun and exciting and then these kids become adults who go on to "teach" their own kids. Many things can be done to change it but does anyone really want to? The Government doesn't appear to.
Zulf, UK

Parents your duties extend beyond feeding and clothing

Ian B, UK
It's got out of hand because, like in the U.S., parents don't take responsibility for their children. I see parents take their young (8 to 12 year-olds) children down the pub on any night of the week. I know one woman who sells her 14-year-old daughter cigarettes. We don't need new laws; enforce the ones we have - and parents your duties extend beyond feeding and clothing.
Ian B, UK

Thank-you Dave Whyte. It's a pity more people don't realise the truth in his comment.
Bruce Walton, England

From Katmandu to Malaga there is one thing that international travellers can count on: the people out roaming the streets intoxicated, singing football songs and looking for a fight will almost always be Brits. What is the cause? What can be done? Nothing short of changing the cynical, class-based culture of Britain, a country perceived by its very citizens as a declining society. Traditionally the safety valve was emigration to new world countries. Those routes are largely closed now and while the cynicism grows the masses seek to drown their sorrows of their sad country in booze, drugs and football battles.
Rod Szasz, Victoria, Canada

What can you expect - young people have very little to stimulate them? The UK is such an expensive place drink and drugs offer a cheap respite from a youth-unfriendly culture.
Doug Phillips, Canada (expat)

It seems that Britain has a culture of drinks and drugs and is encouraging the young generation to take them freely. The Government wants to come across as understanding but they have no real commitment to resolve this as it would be financial blow. The only way to stop these things is to ban them and have severe penalty.
Mike Still, UK

Drug pushers are to blame, they are the people who are addicted themselves, so they have to sell to maintain their own habit, do you think they care about selling drugs outside schools, no, because their own lives are so messed up they only care where their next fix is coming from. What happens to these people when they get caught, nothing, because they are registered as drug addicts, there's not a lot that anyone can do. I think more video's should be shown at schools on people who have died through drug abuse, and drug users who have dried out should be sent to schools to share their own experiences.
Sha, UK

Poor little kiddies. Nowhere to go, nothing to do except get off their face on booze or drugs. I grew up in a poor area, where the kids did not spend most of their time getting into trouble, we were too afraid of the consequences from our parents and the police to do anything stupid. The general breakdown of civilised behaviour in society is a direct cause of kids of today (and previous generations) knowing that they will not get into trouble. It is time that parents took responsibility for their children's actions rather than people blaming everything else from the lack of youth clubs to advertising aimed at kids. You can't blame the licensing laws either, as myself and my mates "learned to drink" under those same laws and never felt the need to sink as much as possible on our nights out.
Pete L, UK

How can we expect children to be responsible about this sort of thing when adults aren't

Danie, UK
How can we expect children to be responsible about this sort of thing when adults aren't. Teenagers have the chance to experiment at this age and up to a point I think they should be allowed to. The worst offenders are those who "should know better" yet still continue - I refer to a man in a restaurant at the weekend who drank two bottles of wine with his partner and then proceeded to drive home afterwards.
Danie, UK

I agree parents do take a large portion of the responsibility for teenage drinking and drug abuse. However this is a cultural issue and parents are only part and perhaps not the largest part of what influences culture and in particular teen culture. Laws play a part but more influential are advertising and the media. Drinking and smoking are about self-image - it is the image that needs to be attacked rather than focussing on health. Anti smoking campaigners for example should focus on "smokers face" to counter the image of attractiveness, or that more smokers are from lower socio-economic and non-professional groups. Programmes both on TV the radio and the cinema use alcohol and tobacco to signal particular stereotype images. Hard, cool, rich, glamorous etc. These do more to promote the acceptability and desirability of smoking, drinking and illicit drug taking than any advert.
Rob Watt, England

Unfortunately Mr Fernandez is right. You can always spot the Brits abroad and they give us all a bad reputation. I think the problem lies in many areas but generally it is due to the poor level of education in the UK compared to Continental Europe. Young people can't seem to think about the nature and consequences of what they do and don't seem to care anyway.

Secondly and more importantly I think it comes down to culture. In Europe most nations are still very aware and involved in their culture whereas in Britain, especially England we have been separated from our traditional culture. As far as most youngsters are concerned culture is Hollyoaks and nightclubs. We as a society have collective amnesia and have forgotten all the important lessons our ancestors learned about life and society that have evolved over the last 2000 years. We have become selfish and act foolishly while our cousins in Europe continue along the line of cultural development.
Frank James, England

The biggest problem is that the whole of the country is in such a dismal state, that the only relief from the constant torrent of doom, gloom, incompetence, nepotism, deceit, lies, arrogance, apathy and pettiness of everyday life in the UK, is to blot it out with chemicals and pretend that you're having a good time. Of course, in reality it's all still there, but for a while it helps. The problem won't go away so long as its the only enjoyable thing to look forward to.
Adrian Mann, UK

There is also an interesting lack of stigma about being drunk and disorderly or hung-over

Emmanuel Mavropulos, Greece
In most parts of Europe, drink accompanies food. Drinking in general is considered a sit-down activity. Ideally, this combination along with good company defines having a good time. There is a lot of savouring involved, and less insistence on quantity and speed. In Britain, no one ever seems to eat anything, everyone drinks standing up and seems to compete who'll get drunk first. I have yet to see someone actually enjoying their drink rather than just gulping it down to make way for the next. There is also an interesting lack of stigma about being drunk and disorderly or hung-over, as if it were just one of those things one usually does. Maybe the licensing laws have sort of conditioned the people into drinking like this, but there may be other reasons, such as inhibition and repression.
Emmanuel Mavropulos, Greece

Take a laid-back attitude like many European countries

Andy Millward, UK
Because we're so uptight about our teenagers we encourage rebellion and escapist bingeing behaviour. Take a laid-back attitude like many European countries, give and expect responsibility rather than telling people what they can and can't do, they respond positively. QED.
Andy Millward, UK

More information in schools about the short-term and long-term dangers and effects. Reducing the drinking age to 16. More tolerate attitude towards cannabis. Less tolerate attitude towards 'harder' drugs. People are intelligent, as long as they are sufficiently informed, they should be allowed to make their own decisions.
Mark Giles, UK

Try giving them something to live for instead of punishing them for being frustrated, alienated and angry. The real thugs are in government.
Alex Laidlaw, UK

The persistent Victorian attitude that people (especially children) need to be protected from themselves prevents a mature, educated approach towards all recreational drugs (not just the two legal ones). If a teenager is told not to do something they will go out of their way to do it. If they are provided with impartial information they can then make their own informed choice. What is needed is a rational debate on all drugs (alcohol, tobacco, illegal etc) - not one that is dictated by hysterical rants from the Daily Mail et al. A more open and less authoritarian culture would go a long way to addressing some of these problems!
Dave Whyte, UK

There does not seem to be any easy way to deal with this problem

Lee, UK
I'm not too sure what can be done but if anybody out there has got any good ideas I'd like to hear them. My wife and I are at our wits end with our 2 boys ages 14 and 15 who are smoking cannabis and drinking. One of them has become psychotic because of his use of cannabis. There does not seem to be any easy way to deal with this problem. A couple of our children have told us that they have been approached at school with the offer of cannabis, ecstasy etc, etc. Also 6 boys were recently suspended because of drug misuse. When my wife wrote to the school of her findings about drugs she was told that that she was over reacting. With this type of attitude there is no chance of defeating the problem.
Lee, UK

Because we set bad examples - the Friday/ Saturday night culture has taken over the country with 'not being able to remember last night' the favourite pastime of the nation. All 14-year-olds want to do is go out and do exactly what the 18 year olds are doing. I am constantly regaled by tales from my friend's 14-year-old sister about how she's been sick in a club and can't remember what happened. She thinks it's great, and says it's what everybody does. Yeah right! Kids as young as this are irresponsible and should not be allowed near alcohol, period.
Edward Vista, England

Laws will not stop people doing as they choose and indeed may encourage illegal activity as part of typical youth rebellion. The fact is what else is there for youngsters to do. Youth clubs are not funded like they should be. Give children and youths a sense of self worth and awareness and whilst experimentation will take place, such usage will be more or less in line with the rest of Europe.
Philip Levy, UK

It takes maturity and openness to be able to move children and young adults away from the drink until you drop culture

Chris C, UK
Drinking is the serious issue, not drugs. They are used in small quantities and rarely. The drinking culture is out of control and very damaging. Advertising is purposely targeting the younger market, which is extremely cynical. It takes maturity and openness to be able to move children and young adults away from the drink until you drop (or drop someone else) culture, and thus far we're no where near there. Parents are primarily responsible for this, we should be big enough to learn from other countries where this is less of a problem.
Chris C, UK

These findings are not that surprising. A similar survey in America showed that the more strict parents were with alcohol in the home, the more likely the children would later suffer from alcoholism. Similarly for society as a whole, the stricter the laws the more likely people are to later abuse. We know that forcing youngsters into not drinking does not work. The only solution is for them to learn to take more responsible attitude by being taught the effects and problems from long term alcohol/drug abuse.
Martin G, UK

Education, Education...etc. I feel it is time to pull our heads out of the sand regarding drink and drugs. We have reached the point where they have become socially acceptable, maybe not in some social circles but amongst the young it has. We must make our school children understand how difficult giving up smoking can be, what the long term effects of drug taking are. In the short term drugs appear harmless and enjoyable and the positives outweigh the negatives. This is what we should be addressing to reverse the situation.
Phil, UK

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20 Feb 01 | Health
UK children top drugs league
20 Jan 01 | Health
Many teen smokers want to quit
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