Page last updated at 09:05 GMT, Friday, 28 March 2008

Toll of teenage drinking revealed

Teenage drinker
Preventing access to drink is said to be an "ongoing challenge"

Teenagers are drinking an average of 44 bottles of wine or 177 pints of beer a year each, a study suggests.

Almost 10,000 15-to-16-year-olds in the North West of England were questioned as part of the study into underage drinking and violence.

The report, produced by Liverpool John Moores University, found as many as 40% of teenagers in poor areas binge drink.

Recent high-profile murders in the region were carried out by teenagers who had been drinking heavily.

On Thursday, Brendan Harris, 15, was convicted of murdering 20-year-old Sophie Lancaster in a Lancashire park after drinking two litres of cider, peach schnapps and lager.

In February, three teenagers were jailed for life for murdering Garry Newlove, 47, from Warrington, in an act that the judge described as "drunken aggression" carried out for entertainment.

These figures highlight the sheer quantity of alcohol being consumed by under-age drinkers across the North West.
Professor Mark Bellis

The latest report into teenage drinking was produced by the university's Centre for Public Health in conjunction with the Home Office and Trading Standards North West.

Researchers also estimate that of 190,000 15-to-16-year-olds in England, 57,000 binge by drinking five or more drinks in one session.

Just under half of those surveyed drank at least once a week, with 40% of girls and 42% of boys later involved in violence.

The report also found that poor children were 45% more likely to be violent after drinking than children in affluent areas.

'Ongoing challenge'

Professor Mark Bellis, co-author of the report, said: "These figures highlight the sheer quantity of alcohol being consumed by under-age drinkers across the North West.

"Sadly, there is still practically no information publicly available on what is a safe amount of alcohol for children to consume or on how parents can best moderate their children's drinking.

"Without a clear message that under-age drunkenness will not be tolerated, we will continue to see the high levels of alcohol bingeing and related violence identified in this study."

Dominic Harrison, deputy regional director of public health in North West, said the research confirmed the "almost daily experience" of people who saw the rising problem of young, drunk people across the region.

"The principal cause of the increased risk is lower prices and increased availability, but culture and the increasing social tolerance of drunken behaviour is also a factor," he said.

More than a third of the teenagers questioned admitted buying their own alcohol - described as an "ongoing challenge" for trading standards officers.

Education vital

North West officer Richard Lindley said: "Under-18s continue to obtain alcohol by asking strangers outside shops and also friends who either look, or are over 18, to buy for them.

"These purchasers need to be aware they are fuelling problems in our communities and committing criminal offences themselves for which they can face police fines."

A Department of Health spokesperson said: "Tackling the culture of harmful and binge drinking is a priority for Government and we are working with the alcohol industry and other stakeholders to implement a comprehensive strategy to tackle it.

"These include a new public information campaign, an independent review of alcohol pricing and promotion, toughened enforcement of underage sales and more help for people who want to drink less.

"Alcohol education continues to be a vital element of our approach.

"Our guidance to schools is clear that pupils' education about alcohol and its effects should start in primary school, before drinking patterns become established and should be revisited as pupils' understanding and experience increases."

video and audio news
Teenagers on their attitudes to drinking

Professor Mark Bellis on teenage binge drinking

Boy convicted of Goth park murder
27 Mar 08 |  Lancashire
Newlove killers jailed for life
11 Feb 08 |  England

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