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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 August, 2003, 17:01 GMT 18:01 UK
Six-year-olds 'binge drinking'
Teenage drinkers
The average age of problem drinkers is falling
Children as young as six have needed hospital treatment after going on drinking binges, report A&E doctors.

The school summer holidays have brought a rash of cases into casualty units up and down England.

A survey by the BBC found that doctors and nurses who work in A&E believe that the average age of binge-drinking children is falling.

Three quarters said that they felt that the number of children needing medical help after drinking was rising.

The BBC asked dozens of A&E consultants about the scale of the problem in their area.

During the summer holidays, on average they estimated that they saw 24 cases of alcohol poisoning a month in under 18-year-olds.

Huge rise

In one area, staff reported seeing almost 100 cases a week during holiday periods, and blamed a "holiday atmosphere" with children left unsupervised.

Without being too melodramatic about it, children will be coming to serious harm, and children will be dying as a result of alcohol binge drinking unless we take some action now
Mr John Heyworth, President, BAEM
In the winter this dropped to approximately 15 a month.

Again, three-quarters of those surveyed felt that the average age of their intoxicated patients was falling.

Repeat offenders

Mr John Heyworth, an A&E consultant from Southampton, and President of the British Association of Accident and Emergency Medicine, said that his young patients fell into two categories - those who were having one experiment with alcohol, and those who returned again and again with the same problems.

He told the BBC: "They are ending up in our resuscitation room and tending not to learn from that situation. And that's very worrying indeed."

Dr Heyworth said: "We're seeing an increasing number of young people presenting to accident and emergency departments who have been binge drinking - and increasingly those children are younger and younger.

"Often they are very sick indeed - they've drunk so much that they are unconscious and vomiting, which is a very dangerous mix.

"Without being too melodramatic about it, children will be coming to serious harm, and children will be dying as a result of alcohol binge drinking unless we take some action now and try to reverse this trend."

There is already rising concern about alcohol consumption among young adults, which is rising fast in some groups, in particular women.

Some studies have linked binge drinking to the development of breast cancer in women.

Dr Patricia Conrod, a researcher for Action on Addiction, said: "The average amount of alcohol consumed per week by 11-15 year olds doubled between 1990 and 2000."

"Heavy drinking is particularly dangerous for adolescents, as they are not fully developed, and their bodies are unable to cope with large quantities of alcohol. Research has suggested that drinking may seriously harm the development of the nervous and reproductive systems."

"Children and teenagers need to be better targeted by prevention strategies, particularly those young people who are repeatedly admitted to hospital for emergency treatment for binge drinking."

Alcohol link to breast cancer
01 Jun 03  |  Scotland
Binge drinking damaging health
06 Mar 03  |  Northern Ireland

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