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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 December, 2004, 09:38 GMT
Drink and drug use high in teens
Teenagers drinking
Too many teenagers binge drink
Britain's teenagers are among the heaviest drinkers and drug-users in Europe, research has found.

A survey of 15 and 16 year-olds found 26% of boys and 29% of girls in the UK had indulged in binge drinking at least three times in the previous month.

And 42% of boys and 35% of girls admitted they had tried illegal drugs at least once.

The survey, by the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD), focused on 35 countries.

I know raising teenagers can be extremely tough, but my concern is that vast numbers of British parents seem to have just given up trying.
Professor Martin Plant

The research, based on 2,000 young people in the UK, confirmed that the problem of excessive drinking now seems worst among girls.

When the survey was last carried out in 1999, binge drinking was more common among boys (33%) than girls (27%).

For the purposes of the study, binge drinking was classed as having more than five alcoholic drinks in a row.

The research also found that 23% of boys and 16% of girls had used cannabis in the last 30 days.

Nearly one in 10 teenagers said they had used illegal drugs other than cannabis.

Researcher Professor Martin Plant, of the University of West of England, said teenagers in the UK were among the most likely to abuse alcohol and drugs - and to suffer the health effects.

He said: "One of the big problems is that vast numbers of young people who engage in these behaviours believe that they are completely invulnerable.

"They don't have any concept that there is a real risk here, but sadly these risks are not simply things that come along much later in life, these things afflict young people, and increasingly young people."

Poor parenting

Professor Plant said many parents did not know where their teenage children went in their spare time, and did not try to impose any kind of restrictions on their behaviour.

"I know raising teenagers can be extremely tough, but my concern is that vast numbers of British parents seem to have just given up trying."

He said teenagers had more money than in the past, and a greater choice of establishments in which to drink. Measures had also increased in size.

Geethika Jayatilaka, of Alcohol Concern, said: "Low pricing, a lack of standardised proof of age schemes and poor enforcement makes it easy for unscrupulous retailers to sell to underage kids.

"This needs to change if we are to turn the tide in the longer term on problem drinking in young people."

Paul Burstow, Liberal Democrat health spokesman, called the report "deeply worrying".

"It adds to the growing body of evidence that teenage binge drinking in Britain is out of control. The number of children turning up in hospital because of alcohol is shocking.

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

Government response

Home Office Minister, Caroline Flint, said tackling alcohol and substance misuse by young people was a top government priority.

She said a raft of measures had been introduced, including on-the-spot fines for selling drink to under-18s, and an information campaign on the dangers of drug use.

"Although it is worrying to see relatively high levels of cannabis use by British schoolchildren compared to other European countries, this report shows that the vast majority of children do not take drugs.

"The government is determined to protect young people, but also to send a strong message that drugs and alcohol misuse will not be tolerated."

ESPAD began in 1995 with a survey of 15 and 16 year-old school students in 26 European countries.

The survey was repeated in 1999 with 30 countries taking part.

New study reveals UK teenage drinking trends

UK teenage binge drinking: Your reaction
14 Dec 04 |  Have Your Say

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