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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 April, 2004, 10:02 GMT 11:02 UK
Drink binges put children in hospital
Binge drinking rates among children are increasing
Thousands of 11 to 15 year olds are being admitted to hospital in England each year for binge drinking, Department of Health statistics reveal.

In total, over 3,300 - or nine per day - required hospital care.

Over 2,700 suffered alcohol-related mental and behavioural disorders, while another 562 experienced toxic effects.

Paul Burstow, Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said the figures were shocking. He accused ministers of failing to tackle the binge culture.

Mr Burstow said: "Teenage binge drinking is out of control. Alcohol abuse amongst teenagers is storing up huge long term health costs.

"The number of children turning up in hospital because of alcohol is shocking.

"Ministers have dithered and delayed over action to tackle the problem.

"Their alcohol strategy fails to get to grips with the binge culture which is putting the lives and health of so many teenagers at risk."

The figures, from last year, were revealed in a parliamentary answer.

John Heyworth, former President of the British Association for Accident and Emergency Medicine said the statistics were not surprising.

Worrying increase

"They're actually a little lower than I would have expected," he told BBC News Online.

"We've seen a steady and worrying increase in child binge drinking admissions over the past ten to 15 years.

"They are very sick when they come along, children can be unconscious, and some have serious injuries.

"It adds a great load to an already overwhelmed department. It's a big problem for us.

"The youngest we've seen has been eight or nine. These days people would not be amazed to hear of children that young drinking."

Mr Heyworth said the main problem is access to strong alcohol.

"These days there is a greater availability of stronger alcohol, particularly alco-pops which are sweeter and easier for them to drink.

"Children are more sensitive to alcohol and they underestimate the powers of alcohol.

"Even vomiting tends not to stop them from doing it again."

He said some children drink as a result of problems at home, but most do so because of peer pressure and curiosity.

Figures from the 2003 Salvation Army Alcohol Awareness Survey showed girls to be the main offenders - with 22% of 14 to 17 year olds admitting to binge drinking, compared to 19% for boys.

Some 60% of teenage girls said their first alcoholic drink was pre-mixed, and only 40% said they knew that these drinks are more alcoholic than beer.

The survey also showed the number of teenagers binge drinking to have doubled in under a decade.

According to the government's alcohol harm reduction strategy alcohol abuse costs 20 billion a year.

Almost six million people, mostly under 25 binge drink every week.

Lesley King-Lewis, chief executive of Action on Addiction, said young people in the UK drank more than any of their European counterparts.

She said: "Excessive 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."

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said the alcohol harm reduction strategy proposes a range of actions to tackle binge drinking among children and young people.

This includes a review of alcohol advertising ensuring adverts do not target under 18s, more research on effective interventions with children and young people, and better education addressing attitude and behaviour.

The BBC's Vicki Young
"There has been a dramatic rise in the number of young people drinking"

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