Drug Education News

News and views from the Drug Education Forum

Too Much Too Young?

Too Much Too YoungThe London Assembly’s Health and Public Services Committee has published their report into young Londoners drinking.

As you would expect there’s been media interest.

But as James Cleaverly, the Chair of the committee, says in his foreword to the report:

Shock headlines and lurid photographs of young men and women incapacitated through drink are great for selling newspapers but what is the truth behind the headlines? Without a sound knowledge base, policies and initiatives will at best be effective only by luck and at worst counter-productive.

The report goes on to detail what the committee were able to find out.

  • Young people in the capital are less likely to drink, and less likely to get drunk than young people elsewhere in the country.
  • More than a third (35 per cent) of Londoners aged 11-21 drank regularly in 2005-06.
  • Londoners aged 11-15 now drink around 307,391 units of alcohol a week
  • 11-15 year old women now have similar drinking habits to young men of the same age.
  • Around 80 to 90 per cent of 17-21 year olds have ever had an alcoholic drink, compared to 15 per cent of 11 year olds and 60 per cent of 15 year olds.
  • In 2005-07, ten per cent of Pakistani and 12 per cent of Bangladeshi young people drank at least once a year (up from 4% and 2% respectively in 2001-04).
  • Alcohol-specific hospital admissions for 11-21 year old Londoners have almost doubled in recent years. In 2006, there were 1315 hospital admissions for 11-21 year olds, compared to 690 in 2002 – an increase of 91 per cent.
  • The alcohol-specific hospital admission rate for young women (at 14.0 admissions per 10,000) was almost twice as high as the rate for young men of the same age (at 7.4 admissions per 10,000).
  • In 2003, there were 1,272 incidents where 11-21 year olds were accused of alcohol–related offences, compared to 2,370 in 2007; nearly double.
  • Underage drinking was the least frequently reported issue in a survey on alcohol-related disorder conducted with community safety staff in London boroughs.

Alcohol Education

The report makes 9 recommendations about a range of actions, which I’ll reproduce below, but I want to focus on what the report says about alcohol education.

They say:

Education can help to change attitudes and increase knowledge about alcohol. Education can also help to challenge misconceptions – for example young people frequently overestimate how many of their peers drink and how much they drink.

The committee were told by the young people they surveyed that there isn’t enough alcohol education in school and had suggestions on how it should be changed:

The young people we spoke to felt that alcohol education should be improved in three key ways. Firstly, they would like to learn about alcohol and its effects in more depth. Secondly, they felt that education should focus more on how to stay safe with alcohol, through, for example, learning what first aid to administer if a friend collapses because of alcohol. Thirdly, they felt that alcohol education should involve people who have been affected by alcohol problems, rather than relying on teachers.

The report goes on to recommend (see Recommendation 6, below) that when PSHE is made statutory that the curriculum places sufficient emphasis on alcohol, and that it should be taught with harm reduction as the desired outcome.

They were told by young people that FRANK had a good reputation amongst their peers which led them to recommend that a national public health campaign is run under that branding (see Recommendation 7, below).  They also want a regional public health campaign using social marketing techniques (see Recommendation 8, below).

The report argues that parents underestimate the damage that alcohol causes their young people, and lack information on the harms alcohol cause.  The committee welcome the draft guidance from the Chief Medical Officer and look forward to that advice being diseminated.


  1. The Greater London Alcohol and Drugs Alliance (GLADA) should monitor the alcohol consumption of young Londoners between 2009 and 2012 to assess whether recent increases in drinking among young women and among young Pakistani and Bangladeshi Londoners are part of ongoing trends.
  2. The Mayor should commission an immediate review of GLADA’s membership, resourcing and remit to ensure it can effectively implement the Regional Statement of Priorities for Alcohol and provide strong regional leadership on alcohol misuse.
  3. The Mayor should outline initiatives to tackle the disproportionate impact of alcohol on the health of people from deprived communities in his upcoming Health Inequalities Strategy.
  4. By March 2010, London boroughs where alcohol-specific hospital admissions for under-18s are higher than the national average (currently Kingston and Sutton) should appoint an alcohol harm reduction champion. This person should ensure that services to reduce alcohol harm are effectively coordinated, and should set a local performance target for reducing alcohol specific hospital admissions below the national average. A councillor would be well suited
    to this role.
  5. A London borough and local police service working with the Retail of Alcohol Standards Group should pilot the St Neots community alcohol partnership model to reduce alcohol misuse by under 18s during 2009/10. Representatives of both the on- and off-licence trade should be engaged in this partnership.
  6. The Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority should ensure that alcohol education is effectively covered in the mandatory PSHE curriculum, currently under development. Alcohol should be given the same prominence in this curriculum as drugs, and the focus should be on how to reduce alcohol harm. The curriculum should cover how and why alcohol tolerance varies between men and women. It should also include first aid techniques, so that young people know how to help in emergencies such as a friend collapsing because of alcohol.
  7. By June 2010, The Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Home Office should run a national FRANK campaign around alcohol that focuses on the consequences of drinking, and also promotes the information FRANK can provide about alcohol and localservices.
  8. By December 2010, GLADA should co-ordinate a Londonwide social marketing campaign that aims to reduce alcohol harm, in association with external partners. The campaign should target groups including parents and carers, young women aged 11-15 and young Pakistani and Bangladeshi Londoners. Consideration should be given to involving London role models to help spread the campaign’smessages.
  9. By March 2012, NHS London should ensure that Screening and Brief Intervention Initiatives are in place at every London Accident and Emergency Department, and available to adults and to young people. A detailed evaluation of the impact of Screening and Brief Interventions on young Londoners’ drinking behaviour should be conducted by March 2014.

Filed under: alcohol

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