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Research confirms levels of alcoholism in under 16s 23 February 2007

RESEARCH undertaken by the Home Affairs Department’s public health specialist shows the Isle of Man is facing serious alcohol problems in children under 16.

Almost one in three Noble’s Hospital A&E admissions for under 16s in 2004/2005 was alcohol related.

Dr Andreea Steriu was prompted to undertake the research following UK headlines at the weekend. An investigation by The Independent on Sunday (February 18) revealed that children as young as 12 years old are being diagnosed as alcoholics amid growing concerns about binge-drinking in Britain. The UK statistics for 2004/2005 show an increase in hospital admissions for alcohol-related disorders in those under the age of 16 years:

‘More than 8,600 admissions, the highest ever and a 37% rise on 1999/2000’.

Comparable hospital data in the Isle of Man for 2004/2005 shows that 22 children were admitted for alcohol related conditions, the youngest being 12 years old here too, with a further 50 being admitted during the same period with what UK experts define as conditions attributable to alcohol, such as traffic accidents, injuries, etc. This is out of a total of 237 youngsters being admitted to Noble’s in 2004/2005.

Alcohol related admissions in this age group represent a proportion of anywhere between nine to 30%.

Home Affairs Minister Martyn Quayle commented:

‘Dr Steriu’s findings show the importance of having a research facility at the Department of Home Affairs which allows us to pick up issues like this and consider the implications for the Isle of Man. These shocking findings, where almost one in three A&E admissions of young people was because of alcohol, have serious implications for the long term health of our young people as well as a likely impact in terms of law and order. The Department will continue to support the Chief Minister’s Drug and Alcohol Strategy to respond to the findings and to find ways to reduce the level of alcohol abuse in the under 16s.’

Dr Steriu gave more details of her findings:

‘The experience of being admitted to hospital may or may not deter a youngster to stop drinking excessively. Girls were more likely to be admitted than boys. However, the figures could underestimate the overall problem because A&E attendances (those given treatment but not admitted) don’t distinguish between the numbers for girls and boys. The A&E attendances have not been analysed because of time limitations.
‘While surveys look at the proportion of children who self-report drinking and drunken behaviour, we should now also be looking at what impact this has on admissions into A&E. These are our first figures to look at and the proportion is quite significant. Of course this may underestimate the drinking problem, given that attendances and GP visits are not included in the statistics. One other important emerging but consistent result is that girls are drinking on a par with boys. This should now prompt us towards developing tailor-made services, not only taking into account the size of the problem, but also for the type of service that should be provided and how that should be provided.
‘These findings represent the Island’s baseline to benchmark against figures in future years, and to monitor the phenomenon.’

Drinking alcohol is a lifestyle behaviour which starts in the pre-teen years. The Isle of Man has carried out the Health and Lifestyle Study in Children (HLSC) surveys of 12-15 year olds in 2001, 2003 and 2005. Dr Steriu is inputting and analysing the HLSC surveys and the Department of Home Affairs will publish those findings in full, probably in April.

Additionally, the Island’s European School Survey Project for Alcohol and other Drugs 2003 (ESPAD) in 15/16 year olds has shown that our children have similar drinking behaviour with their British peers and other northern European countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands.

Margaret O’Reilly, the Drug and Alcohol Strategy Coordinator, who works closely with Dr Steriu, commented:

‘This data and information in support of the Chief Minister’s Drug and Alcohol Strategy is so important in assisting those working with drug and alcohol issues to target their interventions. We focus on data such as A&E admissions for young people because it is one of the alcohol indicators which helps us to monitor this area. When one looks at the figures and ages involved of these youngsters in A&E it highlights the need for parents to take more responsibility for knowing their children’s whereabouts and involvement in their children’s lives. To this end the government has assisted with the production of the Family Fact Guide which provides guidance to parents and carers on helping to understand alcohol and drug issues and enhancing communication with their children. This has been distributed throughout the Island and is available for all parents and carers.
‘Key successful interventions to prevent or reduce binge drinking include media campaigns, peer led discussions and provision of basic facts about alcohol and the risks of intoxication. As outlined in the Strategy, the government and non statutory agencies are doing their utmost to implement these types of initiatives. We are not complacent as for a significant proportion of young people binge drinking is not simply a youthful phase but a possible precursor of later harmful drinking behaviour. We all need to continue to work together to try and prevent these latter problems developing in the future.’

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