A&E departments treat children for effects of alcohol

The Public Health Agency provides an education programme for schools on the dangers of alcohol

Five hundred children ended up in A&E departments in Northern Ireland last year because they were so drunk.

The figures obtained by the BBC show that six children who were under 11 were also treated.

Each A&E treats around 100 children a year, with the Belfast trust the highest at 132 last year.

One consultant said the figures are the tip of the iceberg as they only include teenagers whose sole reason for being at A&E is alcohol.

It does not include those who were injured as a result of drinking alcohol.

Dr Russell McLaughlin said: "There are a lot of other issues that go along with alcohol intoxication in adolescence such as injury, hazardous behaviour, and it makes them more likely to be the victim of a crime, makes them more likely to perpetrate a crime, such as a violent crime, or even be the victim of a sexual assault, for example."

It seems the authorities have accepted young people will drink - the focus now appears to be on managing the quantities.

Awareness

Mercy College in north Belfast facilitates a Public Health Agency (PHA) programme for its pupils from 13 years of age.

Rachel Osborne, 18, said she has learned a lot: "I never thought you could die from drinking too much, but learning about how alcohol can affect your body and all the problems associated with alcohol - it really is dangerous and you have to be careful when you're using it."

Ms Osborne said she is also aware of friends who do drink too much: "You see them lying about the streets and getting into trouble. And you see how that affects them in the long run with school and stuff.

"They're going out on school nights and you can't focus as well as you would be able to if you didn't."

Fellow pupil Chloe Hastings said you would be hard pushed to find a teenager that does not drink these days: "The fact that eight drinks is classified as binge drinking, I was really shocked at that, because a lot of young people I know would go out on a night out and have double that amount.

"They don't realise that they're classified as binge drinking."

Owen O'Neill, of the PHA, said its latest surveys showed some worrying trends.

'Boundary setting'
Jenny Magee from the YMCA said parents need to monitor their teenagers drinking Jenny Magee, of the YMCA, said parents need to monitor their teenagers' drinking

"Between 50% and 60% of young people will have drunk alcohol between the ages of 11 and 16," he said.

"Of that percentage over half have been drunk on at least one occasion and the drunkenness is the piece that we're most concerned about."

Jenny Magee works for the YMCA, which delivers the programme in schools for the PHA.

She said parents really need to monitor their teenagers' drinking: "There's a huge role for parents in terms of financing and understanding what their child is doing once they leave the house. Boundary setting is crucial and understanding consequences is important for parents."

The PHA said for the majority of children drinking is an experimental phase that they will grow out of, but for some it will become a pattern that could blight the rest of their lives.

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