Increase in kids with alcohol problems

CHILDREN as young as 12 are being admitted to Ipswich Hospital with alcohol-related problems, it can be revealed today.

CHILDREN as young as 12 are being admitted to Ipswich Hospital with alcohol-related problems, it can be revealed today.

Doctors say there has been a steady increase in the volume of drunken youngsters requiring medical attention over the last decade - and the age of those coming through the hospital's doors appears to be falling.

Their claims are supported by worrying new figures which show that the number of children receiving treatment for alcohol misuse in Suffolk has nearly doubled in two years.

The statistics, collated by the National Treatment Agency, paint a grim picture of Britain's burgeoning booze culture.

In 2005/06, only 76 young people were treated for alcohol misuse in the county but by 2007/08, the latest year for which figures are available, the number had leapt to 141.

The majority of those seeking help - 68 per cent - were boys.

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The problem in Suffolk is reflected nationally, where the number of under-18s in alcohol treatment programmes has soared by 40 per cent, from 4,781 in 2006 to 6,707 in 2007. The figures confirm that British children are among the heaviest teenage drinkers in Europe.

Experts in Suffolk today claimed readily accessible and cheap alcohol combined with an unrelenting binge drinking culture had fuelled the epidemic.

Simon Aalders, Suffolk Drug and Alcohol Action Team co-ordinator, said increasing numbers of children were experimenting with alcohol without proper knowledge of the associated dangers.

He said: “There are young people who are becoming more and more familiar with alcohol without being aware of the full risk of the substance they are using.

“We have a strong culture of binge drinking in this country and changing that is a real challenge. Alcohol is cheap and very affordable.”

Dr David Hodgkinson, a medic at Ipswich Hospital's A&E department, said doctors were regularly treating intoxicated children.

He said: “We have seen a steady increase in young people reporting with alcohol-related problems between 2000 and now, be that intoxication or injuries and assaults linked to drinking. We have seen children as young as 12.”

He said many had arrived at hospital having guzzled a mixture of concentrated alcoholic drinks, including spirits and alcopops.

Dr Hodgkinson said: “It's often a wake-up call but you need to get the advice to them before they get to that stage. It's asking a bit much to expect us to pick up the problem and provide the educational programme too. Some people get themselves into a position and they are generally not aware of the risks.

“But some of the national strategies in terms of opening hours and accessibility to alcohol have not helped.”

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Numbers of young people who received treatment for alcohol misuse

2005/06 - 76 (57 per cent were male, 43pc female)

2006/07 - 156 (59pc male, 41pc female)

2007/08 - 141 (68pc male, 32pc female)

NUMBERS of children receiving treatment for alcohol misuse could be on the rise because young people are more aware of the help on offer to them.

Simon Aalders, co-ordinator of Suffolk Drug and Alcohol Action Team, said: “We have worked very hard to make drug treatment as accessible as possible.

“Young people feel more comfortable about coming forward and getting the help they need. And parents are more able to help their children and encourage them to get support.

“Alcohol is cheap but people are not forced to drink it.

“We try to educate young people to make informed choices - drinking can lead to teenage pregnancy and accidents. It makes people more vulnerable.”

Chris Lee, youth services manager at Suffolk and Norfolk alcohol and drug charity Norcas, said the increase could be partly down to a more robust method of collating statistics.

He added: “Over the last two years, we have made significant inroads in promoting our service.

“But potentially, the age range is lowering. There are an awful lot of young people who experiment with alcohol and we have concerns about the way is promoted and its accessibility.”

WITH teenagers' pocket money averaging more than �20 a month, youngsters intent on drinking have the spending power to buy large quantities of alcohol.

One major supermarket was offering 20 cans of cider for �12 and a bottle of vodka for �7 today.

The accessibility and cheap price of alcohol makes the role of Trading Standards vital.

Reg Ruffles from Suffolk Trading Standards said that a countywide crackdown on underage sales had reaped reward.

In 2004/05, when the government launched a more concerted effort at tackling youth drinking, 60 per cent of Trading Standards test purchases at premises under observation sold alcohol to children.

That figure has now fallen to 18pc.

“Sixty per cent was appalling,” said Mr Ruffles. “Since then we have worked very hard and we have got that figure down to 18pc, which we still think is too high but there has been a huge sea change, particularly in supermarkets.

“Sellers are much keener to challenge people whom they believe may be under 18. We have had some successful licence reviews where traders have lost their licences.”