There is a half empty or half full interpretation of the survey on the drinking behaviours of Europe’s teenagers, an exhaustive report beginning in 2002 and ending in 2014, where the figures tell more than one story.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has shown trends in alcohol use and drunkenness among 15-year-olds across 36-countries, categorising risky drinking patterns such as; getting drunk, regular drinking habits and early initiation.
The good news is that Great Britain and Ireland have seen the largest drop in teenage drinking since the study began in 2002.
In England year 2002, 50.3 per cent of teenage boys were weekly drinkers, that plummeted to just 10 per cent in 2014. Teenage girls went from 43.1 per cent to 8.9 per cent, which was the largest decline for girls across the entire study.
Wales had the second largest drop in prevalence for boys, from 47.6 per cent to 11.8 per, and Scotland saw girls fall from 41.1 per cent to 10.7 per cent – second to the results in England.
These are staggering figures that are heartening for those working to improve the life chances of young people and for everyone who wants to protect children from the damage that alcohol can do to their lives.
It is because of these goals to improve the well-being of future generations that we must be realistic, that although this is a massive improvement, one in 10 young people in 2014 were still regular weekly drinkers by the age of 15. This means that some had started even earlier, and it is the ‘early initiation’ group that causes the most concern.
Alcohol use has ↘️ among adolescents in Europe, according to a new report from @HBSCStudy . But despite reductions, levels of consumption remain dangerously high and this continues to be a major public health concern. https://t.co/je0yFxG9A5 #teenhealth #beatNCDs pic.twitter.com/K4EaryKOXQ
— WHO/Europe (@WHO_Europe) September 26, 2018
We expect young people to experiment with alcohol and it is because of this that we may think of it as normal. In 2014 the WHO reports that 28 per cent of teenagers started drinking alcohol at 13-years-old or younger. A child trying alcohol early in life increases the likelihood of addiction in adulthood and is also linked to poor mental health, social disorder and poor educational results.
The report tells us what we already know, alcohol is entrenched in our culture, it is readily available in most public spaces, whether you’re on a train or choosing a refreshment in a museum, and young people are learning from this. This is why a one-off lesson on alcohol stands little chance of making an impression against this backdrop of rampant consumption, and why we need to support teachers and parents with the right resources to give children the ability to make healthy lifestyle choices for themselves.
Whether the glass is half empty or half full, the report makes the case for regular early years alcohol education, that is age-appropriate and simple to deliver, to then progress the learning with them throughout their time in education. It’s our responsibility to give our kids a fighting chance to navigate the hazards in the adult world, to hopefully become even healthier and happier adults than the ones today.