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Children drinking over a bottle of wine a week

Published:  23 July, 2008

UK: Government study fuels cheap alcohol debate

The Home Office and the Department of Health are urgently reviewing how discounting and advertising drive the consumption of alcohol.

n the report by the NHS Information Centre for health and social care, one in five secondary school pupils admits having been drunk in the week before the survey - ranging from "mild tipsiness to full-scaled incapacity".

Nearly two-thirds said they drank mainly at home or someone else's home, or on the street (31%) or at parties (29%).

The Government has already identified drinkers under 18 as a group at risk, partly due to the perception that alcohol is more socially acceptable than smoking or drugs.

The report said young people were unlikely to die from the direct effects of alcohol, but they were risking "indirect effects" such as accidents and violence.

But on a positive note, the number of pupils aged 11 to 15 who said they had never drunk alcohol at all has risen from 39% in 2003 to 45% in 2006, and the number who had had alcohol the previous week was down from 26% in 2001 to 21%.

Among the pre-teens, 9% admitted drinking in the past week, and the level of their consumption caused concern: up to 10.1 units a week, from 5.6 units in 2001.

Deborah Cameron, of Addaction, Britain's biggest drug and alcohol treatment charity, said: "It is clear from these figures that young people who are drinking under-age are drinking more than ever before. The increase in girls' drinking is particularly worrying. Those who are drinking alcohol are drinking over the recommended safe limit for adult women.

"The problem is that alcohol is ridiculously cheap - in many places cheaper than bottled water - and too easy to get hold of. Yes, we need to keep up pressure on shops, but we also have to ask whether families are as aware as they should be."

Among 11 to 15s who had drunk in the last seven days, average consumption had risen to 11.4 units, from 10.4 in 2000.