Each year our newspapers are filled with headlines about teenagers overdosing on Class A drugs.
Although this is an issue that needs tackling, far less reported is the much larger problem of alcohol which kills more teenagers than all other drugs combined.
And it isn’t just young people – according to Addaction ‘alcohol misuse is the biggest risk factor for death, ill-health and disability among 15-49 year-olds in the UK, and the fifth biggest risk factor across all ages’.
In 2014-15 there were an estimated 1.1 million hospital admissions in the UK where the primary or secondary reason for admitting was alcohol-related. Alcohol is a casual factor in more than 60 health conditions.
This costs the NHS an astonishing £3.5 billion annually.
In the UK alcohol-related crime is estimated to cost between £8 billion and £13 billion per year.
Piling pressure onto our nation, alcohol is a massive problem thousands of people in Britain are facing and it often starts at a young age.
Public Health England says 59,382 men and 33,176 women aged 18-24 are alcohol dependent, which is a number equivalent to the population of Worcester.
But what is driving young people to drink and what can be done about it?
Research carried out by Drinkaware in 2016 found that half of 13-17 year olds drink with most having their first taste of alcohol between the ages of 13 and 15.
43 per cent of these 13-17 year olds said that they drank when they felt depressed, nervous or in a bad mood.
63 per cent, almost two-thirds, drink to conform, desperate to fit in and be liked.
Scott Haines, who heads the Amy Winehouse Resilience Programme for Addaction, spoke to UNILAD about this.
I think peer pressure can relate not just to someone being offered or forced to take something, but is just as much about the pressures that young people can feel to fit in with their peer groups and perhaps to be part of a crowd.
To add to that I would say that drug or alcohol use can often be a way in which many people seek to cope with a range of problems and stresses.
As such, young people might be particularly vulnerable to harmful drug or alcohol use if they have issues with low self esteem or things going on either at home or in school.
The extent of this vulnerability in such cases might depend on such factors as the young person’s own resilience and which protective factors might be present.
Many young people will of course find more positive ways to cope than simply turning to drugs or alcohol, however our experience shows that some of course do.
Although this all applies to adults too, young people are much more vulnerable and if they turn to alcohol the effects can be more severe.
Dr John Larsen, Drinkaware Director of Evidence and Impact, told UNILAD:
Underage drinking can put children at increased risk of physical and social harm.
Research also shows younger drinkers are more likely to suffer from a range of health issues including weight loss, disturbed sleep and headaches.
During childhood and teenage years, the brain is also still developing and alcohol can affect memory function, reactions, learning ability and attention span, which are all vitally important during school years.
Drinking at a young age is also associated with violent and antisocial behaviour as well as unsafe sexual behaviour and missing or falling behind at school.
As well as affecting how young people perform at school, drinking from an early age can have serious impacts on the body.
Andrew Missell, a director at Alcohol Research, added:
The short-term negative effects will be quite familiar: nausea, stumbling and slurred speech, a splitting headache and a raging thirst the next morning.
The longer-term effects can include damage to various organs (such as the liver and the brain), conditions like depression and anxiety, and an increased risk of six types of cancer.
As a general rule, the younger someone starts drinking, the more likely they are to get into difficulties with alcohol.
When young people are growing, alcohol is more likely to have negative physical and mental effects.
Sisters Amy-Beth and Carys were born only 13 months apart. But at the age of 28, Carys died as a result of the damage alcohol had done to her body. Read their story #AAW2017 https://t.co/VFItX9eSjl pic.twitter.com/pAobKPJDBO
— Alcohol Concern (@AlcoholConcern) November 13, 2017
The issue of alcohol is not only vastly unreported on in the news, but in schools it is not addressed in the same way as drugs and sex education is.
Scott Haines from Addaction said:
There are some fantastic drug and alcohol education programmes available to schools, however coverage can be patchy.
For example, in Addaction we are able to offer a number of evidence based programmes such as Mind and Body, Riskit and the Resilience Programme, which are delivered to thousands of students each year via our services.
One of our main restrictions however centres on funding. Tight budgets for schools and local authorities and schools limits the numbers of young people we are able to reach.
There are still some areas where pupils will be receiving little or no drug and alcohol education, or which varies significantly in terms of quality. This needs to change.
I think the main thing we can do to we address this problem is directing greater investment into prevention and education programmes that are proven to work.
Good quality drug and alcohol education not only helps to reduce the risks to young people, it will also present significant savings to the public purse i.e. reduced health and criminal justice costs.
Although the rate of consumption is increasing, the number of children being educated about alcohol hasn’t changed in the past 13 years and young people need to have access to the right information to make informed decisions.
Haines also emphasised that it is not just young people who need educating about alcohol.
Another area I would suggest focuses on better informing parents as they too can play a huge role in helping to educate young people around the risks associated with alcohol use.
Interestingly around 77 per cent of pupils aged 11-15 in a recent survey recently reported considering their parents to be a helpful source of information around drinking alcohol.
It is also worth noting that respondents also indicated that the most common source from which to obtain alcohol was parents (70 per cent), and that pupils are much more likely to consume alcohol if they live at home with other drinkers.
However, Andrew Missell from Alcohol Research believes that education alone won’t solve the problem.
For starters, the alcohol education that is provided is a drop in the ocean compared with all the positive messages about drinking coming from the drinks industry via advertising, much of it targeted at young people.
This isn’t just traditional advertising, but also event sponsorship and social media engagement.
We know that simply giving someone some facts about alcohol isn’t necessarily going to change how much they drink.
A much more important factor is how self-confident people feel – how able they are to make their own drinking choices regardless of social and commercial pressures to drink more.
The charity is advocating for measures that will push up the price of the cheapest drinks available on the market or remove them altogether.
Five years after Scotland passed alcohol Minimum Unit Pricing, final ruling on industry legal challenge will be delivered next Wednesday https://t.co/TKLJvf3rFx
— Alcohol Research UK (@AlcoResearchUK) November 10, 2017
This is likely to drive down alcohol consumption, especially among young people who will be unable to afford the more pricier booze.
It is clear that alcohol is a massive problem in the UK and it will take a lot of work in order to address it.
If you would like more information or want to talk to someone about concerns you have, you can contact Addaction and chat to a professional.
Emily Murray is a journalist at UNILAD. She graduated from the University of Leeds with a BA in English Literature and History before studying for a Masters in Journalism at the University of Salford. Emily has previously worked for the BBC, ITV and Trinity Mirror. When Emily isn’t writing about topics including mental health and entertainment, you can find her at the cinema which is her second home.