Headlines: February 2nd, 2005

Teenagers who take part in binge drinking sessions out of doors in unsupervised locations, are running a higher risk of harming their health or safety than those who over indulge in clubs or pubs according to a report today. The study also says that getting drunk is seen as normal behaviour among 14 to 17 year olds who drink heavily. The study, for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, comes as the Government has emphasised the need for action to combat binge drinking.The report suggests that 14 and 15 year olds who get drunk when they are unsupervised are at particular risk of injuring themselves in accidents or fights, becoming severely intoxicated, or putting themselves in danger through daring and irrational behaviour. Drinking by 16 and 17 year olds in pubs and clubs appears to be less harmful, though it is still illegal.

The research was carried out by the Trust for the Study of Adolescence who conducted in-depth interviews with 64 young people from the south east who were chosen because they reported involvement in ‘risky’ drinking. It found that getting drunk was widely seen as normal and acceptable behaviour and that these young people viewed their drinking as a social activity. Some believed it raised their status among friends. The most common reason given for heavy drinking was a desire for self-confidence and social enjoyment.

A smaller number of those interviewed said they got drunk alone to escape from normal life and to forget their problems. Questioned about the negative consequences of getting drunk, the interviewees cited unprotected sex and other regretted sexual experiences that they did not think would have happened if they had been sober.

All those taking part in the study talked about the ill effects of hangovers and a smaller group reported experiencing the effects of severe intoxication, including collapse and vomiting. A high proportion reported injuries as a result of their risky drinking, most of which happened out of doors. Risky drinking also led young people to compromise their personal safety.

The study found striking differences between age groups in the degree of harm reported. Older teenagers reported ‘calming down’ as their drinking experience increased. Drinking in pubs and other licensed premises was associated with age and to reduce the likelihood of harm.

Suzanne Carter, co-author of the report with Lester Coleman, said there were valuable messages in the study for health and education initiatives to promote safer, more sensible drinking among young people. “Changing the culture of ‘binge’ drinking is bound to be difficult when alcohol is so readily available and a large proportion of the adult population use it to excess, at least on occasions. However, a well-planned harm reduction strategy in schools and the wider community would be an important step in the right direction,” she said.