Page last updated at 13:36 GMT, Wednesday, 30 April 2008 14:36 UK

Eight-year-olds 'abuse alcohol'

Drink in fridge
Some of those treated were given alcohol by their parents

Children as young as eight have been treated for alcohol-related health problems in Scottish hospitals.

A five-week NHS study showed 633 children, including 15 under the age of 12, were taken to casualty units after drinking too much alcohol.

They had consumed, on average, the equivalent of six pints of lager in the 24 hours before being admitted to hospital, the study said.

Almost a quarter had also taken illegal drugs including ecstasy and cannabis.

The report from NHS Quality Improvement Scotland revealed that people under the age of 30 made up the majority of those taken to emergency units with alcohol-related problems.

The figures were collected between April and June 2007 from 21 hospital emergency units across Scotland.

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They revealed that 70% of assault cases were related to alcohol, while 62% of males and half of females taken to hospital after self-harming had reported consuming alcohol prior to their attendance.

Dr Bill Morrison, a consultant in emergency medicine who chaired the project, said the study provided further proof of the damage done by Scotland's drinking culture.

He had noted an increase in the number of children in their early teens being treated in hospital after taking alcohol from their parents or having it bought for them.

Dr Morrison said: "Many people will be shocked to learn that so many children, even as young as eight, are being treated in emergency departments for alcohol misuse, but the sad fact is, these are not isolated cases.

"More than a dozen under-12s and more than 600 under-17s were treated in the three months our audit collected data.

"These figures represent the most shocking finding of our work, but whether it is in the number of assaults, in cases of self-harm or in the impact on young people, we see the same picture emerging.

"Alcohol plays a significant role in a myriad of social problems and inflicts an incalculable human cost. The figures tell a stark tale - Scotland has a serious alcohol problem."

The report forms part of the Scottish Government's five-year plan to improve the nation's health.

'Rogue retailers'

Public Health Minister Shona Robison said: "One young person attending an Emergency Department because of alcohol misuse is one too many.

"We recognise that we must get better at diverting young people from misusing alcohol."

The minister said efforts included cracking down on rogue retailers who sold to underage drinkers by introducing tougher penalties and rolling out test-purchasing.

She also said that alcohol education in schools was being strengthened by establishing an expert steering group on substance misuse education.

The Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 is to be overhauled next year to create wider offences in a bid to tackle underage drinking.

The new laws will make it an offence for anyone to sell alcohol to or for children anywhere and will ban promotions of alcohol that are likely to appeal to young people.




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