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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 December 2004, 18:39 GMT
Britain's teenagers 'hitting the bottle'
Girl drinking
The 'ladette' culture could make it easier for young girls to drink
Visitors to Britain's town centres on Friday and Saturday nights may have long suspected the country's youth had a drink problem.

Figures add weight to the theory - suggesting that UK teenagers are among the heaviest drinking in Europe, and that teenage girls are binge drinking more than boys.

Pub promotions and marketing, poverty, even a growing "ladette" culture, are frequently blamed for the trend, but actual research into the problem has been limited.

What is clear is that some youngsters are paying a very high price, such as the 17-year-old girl diagnosed with severe liver damage after five years of drinking.

The teenager is now being assessed for a liver transplant.

Drinking culture

The figures show that in the UK, 29% of 15 to 16-year-old girls admit to routinely drinking five or more drinks in a single session, compared to 26% of boys.

The findings in the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and other Drugs highlighted the UK as one of the worst countries in Europe for teenage drinking.

Martin Plant, professor of addiction studies at the University of the West of England, said the UK and Ireland were among a number of countries with a centuries-old culture of drinking heavily in a short space of time.

What is needed is a nationwide standard proof of age scheme. It would make it so much harder for young people to buy alcohol
Sophie Davison
Alcohol Concern
This caused short-term problems, such as public order offences like fighting, Professor Plant said.

In other countries, like France and Italy, drinking alcohol was "spaced" throughout the week and often accompanied a meal, he said.

This meant children in these countries learned to drink in a more "civilised" way.

Other research showed parents in France and Italy were far more likely to know where their teenagers were in their spare time - 71% compared to 49% in the UK.

Teenagers in the UK with single parents were also far more likely to drink, smoke and take illegal substances, Professor Plant added.

The fact that single parents in this country were often impoverished was a major factor, he said.

'Less inhibited'

He also suggested women were "making up for lost time" following the erosion of social barriers against them drinking.

"There are far fewer constraints on women. People are simply less inhibited."

The rise of the "ladette" had produced a new, powerful spending group for advertisers to target, Professor Plant said.

A "disproportionate" amount of alcohol advertising was now spent trying to get women to drink.

Sophie Davison, of Alcohol Concern, branded much of the marketing as "irresponsible".

She said: "The marketing and packaging of alcohol products are generally targeted at younger women and girls - things like they are lower in calories and don't taste of alcohol."

She also said girls often looked older than boys and could get hold of alcohol more easily.

"What is needed is a nationwide standard proof of age scheme," she said.

"It would make it so much harder for young people to buy alcohol."


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