Alcohol poisoning in children on the rise

By Joe Kearney

Image caption,
Binge drinking is a particular problem among young people in Northern Ireland

More than 300 children have been admitted to hospital in Northern Ireland for alcohol poisoning in the last six years, the BBC has learned.

The number of people aged under-18 is up almost a fifth since 2013, despite a 40% drop in overall admissions.

In 2013, 1,389 people in Northern Ireland were treated for having taken a toxic level of alcohol.

By 2017, that number had fallen to 838, but there was no reduction in the average number of children admitted.

Last year, 53 under-18s were admitted to hospitals in Northern Ireland - up from 45 in 2013.

The findings for Northern Ireland are contrary to those in a recent World Health Organization report which charts a dramatic drop in drinking among adolescents in England.

The study, published in September, reported that 65% of 16-17 year olds said they drank alcohol, down from 88% in 2001.

Among those aged 8-12 years, the proportion of children who had taken an alcoholic drink fell from 25% in 2002 to 4% in 2016, and among 11-15 year-olds, the figures fell from 61% in 2003 to 38% in 2014.

No statistics were available for Northern Ireland.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
A community worker said spirits that "smell and taste like lemonade" were a particular problem for teenagers

The NHS defines alcohol poisoning as the consumption of a toxic amount of alcohol, usually over a short period of time - binge drinking.

In the most severe cases, it can lead to coma, brain damage and death.

Symptoms include confusion, vomiting and seizures.

Fra Stone, from the Community Drugs Programme, believes Northern Ireland's unhealthy relationship with drink must change.

"Alcohol is part of everyday life, we are bombarded by alcohol advertisements everywhere we go, and it is portrayed as a fun thing to do," he said.

"Young people witness their parents and older members of their family drinking at home from a very young age, so it is seen as acceptable."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Drinking is often associated with celebrating

Mr Stone, from the Falls Community Council, said parents were buying children alcohol to drink at home to stop them drinking outside where it is more dangerous.

"Parents who do this have broken the taboo regarding alcohol with their children," he said.

"Instead of teaching responsibility, they are, in the young person's eyes, encouraging them to drink."

Mr Stone said drinking spirits that "smell and taste like lemonade" was a particular problem for teenagers.

What is the law?

  • Under-18s are not allowed in any bar area of licensed premises or registered clubs
  • Under-18s are not allowed to purchase alcohol or consume it in a place other than a private house
  • Where a licensed premises holds a children's certificate, certain exemptions apply
  • Anyone under the age of 14 may only consume alcohol in a private house and only for medical purposes.

Source: nidirect

Earlier this year, Coroner Joe McCrisken said alcohol misuse was Northern Ireland's "greatest healthcare problem".

Media caption,
Alcohol misuse is the "greatest healthcare problem facing Northern Ireland", a coroner has said

Between 2001 and 2016, more than 3,500 deaths in Northern Ireland were attributed to excess drinking.

"The figures are frightening because they show that the number of alcohol-related deaths is increasing, so it's important to raise awareness about the dangers," Mr McCrisken said.

The coroner said while deaths linked to alcohol abuse dwarfed those linked to other drugs, the official figures were "only the tip of the iceberg".

He said many road deaths are linked to alcohol, as are many deaths caused by heart and strokes.

More on this story

Related Topics