'Young girls drink nearly twice as much alcohol as they did 7 years ago'Last updated at 01:00 27 April 2007
Young girls are drinking nearly twice as much alcohol as they were seven years ago, as levels of binge drinking among pre-teens reach unprecedented levels.
A report by Alcohol Concern reveals that girls aged between 11 and 13 are drinking 83 per cent more units of alcohol than they were in 2000.
Among those who drink, this represents an average rate of eight units of alcohol a week - equivalent to four pints of beer or four large glasses of wine.
Boys aged 11 to 13 who drink alcohol are now consuming an average of 12 units a week, or six pints of beer. This is a rise of 43 per cent on the year 2000, based on a survey of more than 8,000 schoolchildren.
The charity says excessive drinking will lead to increased rates of teenage pregnancy, drug taking and crime, and a generation of teenagers "sprawled on street corners".
They say alcohol caused a rise of 20 per cent in the number of children admitted to hospital between 1999 and 2005, when there were 7,500 juvenile alcohol-related admissions a year.
And the charity warns that alcohol dependency may now affect up to 15 per cent of 16 to 24 year olds - with brain damage a real possibility.
Frank Soodeed, campaigns manager at Alcohol Concern, said:
"We are sleepwalking into a public health crisis if young people drink from an earlier age and start to drink more. It is really disturbing.
"The problem clearly starts from a very young age and we need to start focusing on these children. Otherwise we will see more and more older children sprawled on street corners.
He said increased alcohol consumption impacts on school performance, with drinking the cause of 14 per cent of pupils excluded from school.
And teenagers are finding it all too easy to buy drinks. He pointed to a study last year which showed that 29 per cent of under-18s could buy alcohol in pubs and 21 per cent in off-licenses.
Mr Soodeed said: "It is shocking that nearly one in three underage people are able to buy alcohol in pubs. We need to start being more punitive with those premises that are selling alcohol like this.
"Alcohol-related harm is a much greater problem than drug-related harm and yet the government pumps more resources into drugs. We need to rebalance our spending."
The charity said the government's much-vaunted Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy, launched in 2004, had failed to make a significant impact on binge drinking among the young.
Research from 2006, quoted in the report found that in the UK, there was a small decrease in the number of young people who had consumed alcohol in the past week,
But those who were drinking alcohol now drink far more than they did in 2000 - and the largest rise was amongst 11 to 13 year olds.
However, as it is a survey, there is the possibility that children may have bragged and overstated their alcohol consumption.
The report concluded: "These are startling results for a strategy which aimed to raise awareness about alcohol misuse amongst young people.
"The lack of targets or focus within the strategy to reduce young people's drinking has resulted in continued increases in consumption amongst 11 to 15 year olds and ongoing issues with teenage pregnancies.
"Eleven to 13 year olds in particular are drinking more than in previous years."
The charity says the rise in the amount that pre-teens are drinking will in many cases lead to alcholism later in life.
US research shows that children who start drinking before the age of 14 are more likely to become alcohol dependent in adulthood, with more than three times the risk of having two or more episodes of alcohol dependency in their lifetime.
A spokeswoman for Family Youth Concern said: "As a nation we should be horrified by the level of alcohol abuse among children as young as 11. Yet these figures are hardly surprising when so many adults are regularly binge drinking.
"This government's disjointed approach to alcohol has tolerated and not tackled binge drinking. The relaxed licensing laws have made it easier to consume vast quantities of alcohol, sending a clear message that it is acceptable.
"Children will follow the example that adults set."
Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said: "It is deeply worrying that binge drinking is so common in young teens.
"The government has failed to deliver the message to teenagers that alcohol is bad for their health, but then that's not surprising because the government has irresponsibly plundered public health budgets to meet NHS deficits."
Liberal Democrat health spokesman Sandra Gidley said:
"The government is failing our children with its ineffective alcohol reduction strategy. We are building up huge problems in the long term unless we deal with these problems now."
Public health minister Carolione Flint said: "The government is serious about tackling alcohol-related harm and excessive consumption and recent data shows that levels of binge drinking are no longer rising.
"Our current 'Know Your Limits' campaign, while focusing on the 18 to 24 age group, can also inform younger age groups of the potential harms of alcohol misuse and influence their future drinking habits.
"Education on substance misuse, including alcohol, now has a higher profile in schools across the country and is part of the National Curriculum."