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   Inside Out - East: Monday January 13, 2003


A group of teenagers drinking on the street
STREET LIFE | underage binge drinking is causing serious damage

Inside Out investigates the stark reality of underage drinking and discovers that in some cases, alcohol causes more problems amongst teenagers than any illegal drug.

Ecstasy, cocaine, heroin, the list of harmful substances abused by youngsters today goes on. But it may surprise you to learn that research undertaken in Essex has revealed that the substance causing the greatest problem is alcohol.

Starting early

Tom Aldridge author of the report
Tom Aldridge's report reveals that young people are drinking at very early ages

"Alcohol is the drug that causes most problems…our concern is that these young people are starting to drink at really early ages. We found one regular drinker who was seven." Tom Aldridge author of the report

The service that has been created is especially tailored for kids across Essex. The Chelmsford-based project, backed by the Children’s Society, is exclusively designed for children, some not even in their teens.

The drop in centre opens every weekday, allowing young people to talk about their problems in confidence. It is this confidentiality that has sparked controversy. Parents are not informed about their child’s drinking unless the child requests it, or unless the child is considered to be at risk.

Convicted under the influence

Kerri began drinking at the age of 12. When Kerri’s dad would have a pint, she would join him with an alcopop. After the death of her dad, Kerri began relying more heavily on alcohol. As she was living with a friend rather than her mum, there was no one to check her behaviour.

"I was doing two to three bottles of Jack Daniels a day...When I woke up one morning and I had no drink in and I had the shakes... that’s when I realised it was really bad," says Kerri.

Close-up of Kerri
Kerri began drinking at the age of twelve

Fuelled by drink, Kerri ended up in trouble. At the age of 16, she was convicted for non-violent crime and has just completed an 18 month sentence in Holloway.

Kerri has been in counselling with Sally for seven years and although she still drinks occasionally, she is getting back on her feet. Kerri puts the success of the service down to the fact that young people are listened to, rather than preached at.

"When I first started talking to people; counsellors, psychiatrists, I didn’t like them, they pry too much... but Sally is really nice and down to earth," says Kerri.

Communicating with youngsters

The service is not only office-based. In the evenings, workers visit the areas where kids are known to hang out drinking. The ability to communicate with the kids is essential, so the workers are chosen for their ability with young people, rather than their qualifications.

Bottles of beer
Drinking is part of Britain's social culture

Martin is one such outreach worker. He took Inside Out to Central Park in Chelmsford, one of the known hang outs for underage drinkers.

"This is an area we target. We give them information and talk to them before they get too drunk," says Martin.

One drinker admits to drinking ethanol cut with coke, as a means of getting drunk really quickly. This provides a sobering thought to parents everywhere.

"People may think their kids aren’t like me, but how do they know?"
An underage drinker

No simple solution

Although the cases of alcohol abuse we have looked at are extreme, they are by no-means isolated incidents. Alcohol abuse amongst youngsters is on the increase and in a society where drinking is part and parcel of our social culture, it is a problem with no easy solution.

Whilst the outreach scheme in Essex doesn’t claim to have all the answers to our nation’s less than healthy relationship with alcohol, it offers support and a confident to youngsters, and it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

See also ...

Teenage drinking (News)
Underage drinking (Newsround)

On the rest of the web
Bupa - Dramatic rise in teenage drinking

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