In the UK even the children don't seem to be immune from the problems of alcohol. Official figures show that 1.340 children under-14 were treated in the NHS hospitals last year for alcohol-related illnesses.
The figures, supplied by the Information Centre for Health and Social Care, showed a slight drop on previous years, with 1,441 drunk youngsters across the country having been hospitalised due to alcohol in 2005-06, 1,587 in 2004-05 and more than 4,600 in the three years prior to that.
AdvertisementIn all it comes to 7,500 children in that age group for the last five years, reports The Times newspaper.
Previous research has suggested that in recent years, the overall proportion of children drinking alcohol has fallen, perhaps because of better education - but still about 23 per cent of 14 and 15-year-old girls admitted they got drunk at least once a week, compared with 21 per cent of boys.
They are among an estimated 800,000 children below the age of 15 who drink alcohol regularly every year, the charity Alcohol Concern says.
"Many of the young people who drink at hazardous levels require a depth of support that is simply not available in the current system," Frank Soodeen a spokesman for the group said. "We are sleepwalking into a public health crisis if young people drink from an earlier age and start to drink more. 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."
Ian Gilmore, chairman of the Alcohol Health Alliance, a group of health professionals lobbying for increased taxes on alcohol, said: "Clearly it's inappropriate for young pop stars, looked upon as role models for young people, to be celebrating or boasting about their misuse of alcohol, and the 'Amy Winehouse factor' isn't helping the situation.
"We know girls' bodies are more sensitive to the effects of alcohol than boys. Unless we can stop this heavy drinking culture among young girls, we're more likely to see women with serious liver disease at a younger age in the future."
Opposition parties yesterday demanded that the Government redouble its efforts to tackle binge-drinking culture among young people, which include teaching pupils about the dangers of alcohol while they are still at primary school.
Norman Lamb, Liberal Democrat health spokesman said that a hardcore of young drinkers were drinking a "staggeringly large amount of alcohol".
"This is a frightening sign of how out of control the binge drinking culture in this country has become," he said. "Problem drinking starts at an early age, yet the Government is failing to focus its resources on the young who are seriously at risk. Those drinking so much they require hospital treatment will represent only the tip of the iceberg.
"Our young people simply cannot wait this long. As well as causing chaos on Friday nights and anti-social behaviour, irresponsible drinking results in serious long-term health problems.
"The Government must act to save thousands of young people from a future of alcoholism and serious liver disease.
"A fresh look at tackling the growing problem of excessive drinking is long overdue. A good start would be cracking down on those shops that sell alcohol to underage children. We also need to consider putting a halt to supermarkets selling drinks at rock bottom prices - with no thought as to the knock on effects."
Andrew Lansley, the Conservatives' health spokesman, said: "It is tragic that so many children have been sucked into alcohol abuse at such a young age.
"This is yet more evidence of the social breakdown that has occurred under this Government.
"The Government needs to create an environment which promotes sensible drinking.
"Labour has shown extraordinary complacency in failing to prioritise public health and the toll this is taking on people's lives is now becoming all too clear."
A spokeswoman from the Department of Health responded: "We remain concerned about young people and alcohol abuse, which is why the updated cross-Government alcohol strategy Safe, Sensible, Social, highlights these very issues and outlines how the Government plans to tackle this.
"For the first time, it identifies under-18s as a priority group and the reduction of drinking by young people as a Government objective.
"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.
"We have also introduced a new public information campaign to promote sensible drinking; an independent review of alcohol pricing and promotion, toughened enforcement of underage sales by retailers and plans to introduce more help for people who want to drink less."
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