While alcohol-related health and social problems amongst youths are increasing internationally, both consumption and associated harms are particularly high in British youth. Youth drinking patterns, including bingeing, frequent drinking and drinking in public spaces, are associated with increased risks of acute (e.g. violence) and long-term (e.g. alcohol-dependence) health problems. Economic, behavioural and demographic factors are main causes of these risky drinking behaviours among 15–16 year old school children who consume alcohol. Analysis utilised logistic regression to identify independent predictors of risky drinking behaviour.
Of all respondents, 87.9% drank alcohol. Of drinkers, 38.0% usually binged when drinking, 24.4% were frequent drinkers and 49.8% drank in public spaces. Binge, frequent and public drinking were strongly related to expendable income and to individuals buying their own alcohol. Obtaining alcohol from friends, older siblings and adults outside shops were also predictors of risky drinking amongst drinkers. However, being bought alcohol by parents was associated with both lower bingeing and drinking in public places. Membership of youth groups/teams was in general protective despite some association with bingeing.
In recent years increasing levels of hazardous and harmful alcohol use, along with their negative health consequences, have received international attention as issues requiring immediate action. Thus, the World Health Organization (WHO) has identified excessive alcohol use as one of the most important risks to health and the World Health Assembly has requested Member States to implement effective interventions to tackle alcohol misuse. Within the WHO European Region, where per capita alcohol consumption and related disease burden are double global averages, two successive alcohol action plans (covering 1992 to 2005) have been followed by a Regional Framework providing strategic guidance to member states on the development and implementation of alcohol policy. Further strategic support in the European Union (EU) has been provided through the EU strategy to assist member states in reducing alcohol-related harm. In both, particular attention is focused on the increasing levels of alcohol intoxication and the disproportionate burden of alcohol-related harms in European youth.
Among school children (aged 15–16) in many European countries, hazardous and harmful drinking patterns have escalated with increases in both binge drinking (here drinking five or more alcoholic drinks in one drinking occasion) (e.g. UK, Norway, Czech Republic) and drunkenness (having ever experienced more than 20 drunken episodes) (e.g. Ireland, Estonia, Slovenia). In the long term continued heavy alcohol consumption, including frequent bingeing, is linked to pathologies including liver disease, cancers and cardiovascular disease. However, binge drinking by youths is also associated with acute problems including alcohol-related violence and other anti-social behaviours. Furthermore, it contributes to unprotected sex, drug consumption and educational problems including truancy.
In the UK, levels of both alcohol-related health burdens (e.g. liver disease) and crime are rising. Approximately 7.1 million residents in England are now thought to be hazardous or harmful users of alcohol with around 1.1 million being alcohol dependent. Further, UK youth now have among the highest levels of alcohol consumption and binge drinking in the European Union (e.g. prevalence of binge drinking in the past 30 days among girls aged 15–16: UK 56%, Belgium 44%, France 23%), and experience drunkenness at an earlier age than most of their European counterparts. Associated problems including anti-social behaviour and unintended pregnancy are also high. Nationally, alcohol-related problems are estimated to cost approximately £20 billion per annum.
The reasons why alcohol creates a disproportionate health and social burden in some cultures (e.g. UK) are likely to be multi-faceted. While debate continues over whether any alcohol consumption by youths can be beneficial, studies suggest that drinking behaviours early in life can not only be of immediate detriment to health but may also relate to adult alcohol consumption patterns and their related health consequences. In particular, binge drinking and unsupervised underage drinking in public places can result in negative health consequences (e.g. accidents) and are strongly linked to anti-social behaviour. However, where alcohol is typically integrated into family life (e.g. in Mediterranean countries such as France and Italy), children display lower levels of binge drinking and alcohol-related anti-social behaviour than their Northern counterparts. The consequences of frequent drinking by youths are less clear yet several studies have associated frequent youth drinking with increased health risks including involvement in physical fights. Previous research has identified a range of factors associated with risky drinking behaviours in youths. These include those related to: the individual (e.g. sensation seeking, anxiety, positive alcohol expectancies), their relationships (e.g. parental and peer drinking behaviour), and the drinking context (e.g. cultural norms, alcohol availability).
Binge, frequent and public drinking as all being strongly related to amounts of spending money youths have available. Such information offers at least three possible points for intervention. Interventions could aim to reduce money available to young people or advise parents on improving their monitoring of what youths spend money on. Currently, teenagers (aged 12–16) typically receive almost £10 pocket money a week from parents while over a third (37%) of 14 to 15 year olds work in a regular paid job during school term time. However, public health considerations of how providing money to youths affects behaviour or of how parents may better control expenditure are poorly developed. Many individuals used older siblings, friends and even strangers outside alcohol retail outlets to obtain alcohol. Obtaining alcohol from older siblings was related to binge, frequent and public drinking and again consideration should be given to informing parents of additional risks faced by younger siblings from alcohol provided by older brothers and sisters. Obtaining alcohol from adults outside shops was especially related to drinking in public settings. Not only does this allow youths to get drunk but it also requires young people to interact with adult strangers, potentially exposing children to the risk of sexual abuse.
The parent of a child with a bad drinking or eating problem that has reached medical proportions should take advantage of technology to get a grip on the situation and take charge of it. A child monitoring solution should be used to ease his children's suffering. It is almost impossible for teenagers to admit they has a drinking or eating problem in front of their parents or teachers. However, they are often willing to share their daily life with other kids of their same age consciously or unconsciously. Therefore, parents can use a friendly family spy software to monitor the computer and internet activities of their kids to detect bingeing and alcohol abuse. A family spy software usually records children's keystrokes, instant messages, chats, emails, posts and searches. Parents will know their children may be using alcohol if kids type a word like "drink", "beer", "liquor", "wine", "wasted" or "hammered". Once such words are detected by spy software, parents should have serious talk with their children about the danger of alcohol abuse. Meanwhile, parents may allow youths to experiment with alcohol in a family setting with positive parental role models rather than outside the family with pressure from peers to consume to excess.