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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 November 2007, 06:07 GMT
Young addicts beating the bottle
By Tamasin Ford
BBC Radio 1 Newsbeat

Teenagers drinking
Under-18s seeking help for alcoholism rose by 40% in 2006

Serious alcohol abuse among those too young even to drink legally is rising sharply.

At a centre for children and teenagers affected by addiction, one 16-year-old tells his story.

Once home to the Port Admiral of Plymouth, Hamoaze House overlooks Plymouth Sound.

With magnificent views of the harbour, the imposing eighteenth century mansion is no longer connected to the Royal Navy. It is now a treatment centre for young people with drug and alcohol problems.

The latest figures from the National Treatment Agency show the number of under-18s in contact with treatment services for problems including the misuse of alcohol rose by 40% last year.

Youth club

Mike, now 16, has been drinking since he was 12.

A few years later, he realised he had a problem.

We get young people who are drinking a litre bottle of vodka on top of eight pints of beer a day
Jerry Woodley
Drugs and alcohol worker

"All my mates started drinking and I started following them," he recalls.

"I would be on Fosters every Friday, Saturday and maybe even Sunday in the park or on a street corner. I'd have about 15 a night."

Hamoaze House feels more like a youth club than a treatment centre.

With huge, welcoming sofas, smiley staff sell Christmas raffle tickets and joke about whose turn it is to make the tea. But what goes on here is a lot more serious.

A total of 25 children, some as young as five, use the services here every day.

Some have drug or alcohol problems themselves, while others have been affected by a family member with an addiction.

Jerry Woodley is a drugs and alcohol worker in Plymouth.

"We get young people who are drinking a litre bottle of vodka on top of eight pints of beer a day," he says. "That sounds really unbelievable but this is what happens.

"We've had young people who actually come to the service with ulcers at the age of 14, which was unheard of some time ago."

'Way to escape'

Hamoaze House is not just a place where young people can go for counselling. Staff say they want to show children they can have a good time and lead a normal life without drugs and alcohol.

There is a games room, computers, a gym, musical instruments, decks and an Astro pitch in the grounds.

You've got the rest of your life to drink
Mike, 16

Before coming to Hamoaze House, Mike says all he could think about was when he could have another drink.

"On Monday I'd get to school and I'd think: I can't wait for Friday to come so I can drink again," he adds.

"Friday and Saturday nights were a way to escape by drinking and get away from all the stress of school. I'd live for the weekends.

"I'd get an older person to buy it for me. I'd just stand outside the shop and they'd get it for me.

"I'd just sit in the park until about 0100 drinking. My mum and dad were always asleep so I'd just come in, have something to eat and go straight to bed so they never knew really what state I was coming home in."

Mike is now back at school. He's doing an apprenticeship to become a carpenter while studying for his GCSEs at the same time.

"I'm just glad I don't do it anymore," he says. "I'm getting on back at school. I can't believe I ever used to be like that."

And he offers advice to other teenagers who have turned to drink.

"Just get out of it and get your head sorted because you've got the rest of your life to drink.

"You don't want to waste your time now. Just get your head down and sort it out."

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