How glass of wine at home can turn teens into problem drinkers
Parents warned not to introduce youngsters to alcohol before 18
PARENTS have been warned that they are leading teenagers into harmful drinking habits by allowing them to consume alcohol at home.
Well-intentioned adults are increasingly introducing their children to beer and wine before they hit 18, thinking it will foster a Continental-style respect for alcohol.
But new statistics reveal underage drinking in Ireland is reaching crisis levels with a third of teenagers aged 16 or 17 having already faced their own alcohol problems.
These range from getting ill from excessive drinking, missing school, or becoming involved in drink-related disciplinary issues right up to hospitalisations and blackouts.
And an alarming 6pc of Leaving Cert students are now classified as being "alcohol dependent" as they finish secondary school, according to the My World/UCD/Headstrong study.
Parents were warned by leading addiction treatment organisation Aiseiri that their own behaviour can actively contribute to the problem.
Aiseiri chief executive Paul Conlon said: "Ireland is the easiest place to become an alcoholic and the hardest place to recover. Parents and adults may be unwittingly leading young people into problematic drinking and the risk of addiction because of our acceptance of alcohol as part of the family, as something you do.
"Very often parents think they are doing the right thing by allowing their teenage children have their first drink with them.
"They may do so because they believe that young people are going to drink anyway, or they may do so because they think it's progressive or something they do on the continent."
Sometimes the introduction occurs on a foreign holiday with a sip of wine, or a youngster being handed a beer or cocktail at a family party.
But the addiction expert warned that, by introducing alcohol at too young an age, parents can provoke the problem they are trying to avoid.
Aiseiri said the age at which teens are being exposed to alcohol is "a matter of increasing concern".
The study was updated with the latest Aiseiri data, as it is the only community and residential addiction service which caters for people aged from 15 years to adult.
Mr Conlon said that in over 30 years of treating alcohol addiction, it has learned that problem drinking was very often a learned behaviour. Teens with problems have often witnessed unhealthy drinking by their parents, or been provided with alcohol by a well-intentioned adult who may even insist on it being consumed in a controlled setting.
Cork consultant Dr Chris Luke said that parents often worried about drugs, but they should also be seriously concerned about alcohol.
"Alcohol is the gateway drug – people talk about ecstasy, cocaine and heroine but alcohol is generally the drug that introduces all the others," he said.
Health Service Executive (HSE) medical officer Dr Declan O'Brien confirmed that 40pc of addiction cases involve alcohol.
The youngest person ever to have presented for alcohol problems was a 12-year-old and treatment centres are increasingly worried that parents are unwittingly fuelling the crisis.
Irish emergency departments acknowledged that alcohol-related admissions soared at the time of secondary school events such as debs' and grads' balls. Alarmingly, the level of drunkenness in emergency departments rose by 300pc in the 10 years from 2001 to 2011.
Earlier research by Amarach found that underage drinking is now commonplace in Ireland.
Over 25pc of 16 and 17-year-olds admitted they drank at least once a week with 31pc drinking at a friend's house, 30pc drinking at home and 22pc drinking outdoors.
The Aiseiri chief said that government measures are now crucial if the problem is to be successfully tackled.
"We have to resource services for families," Mr Conlon said.
"This is the first line of defence against many young people's collision course with alcohol harm and dependency."
He said it was critical for parents to work with their children to try to postpone drinking until they are 18 years or older.
"I know it is difficult, but if we can do that we will help avoid a lot of problems in the long run," he said.
Meanwhile, the Drinks Industry Group of Ireland said that average adult consumption fell by 7.6pc between 2012 and 2013.
A study conducted by economist Anthony Foley of Dublin City University on behalf of the drinks industry claimed that the average per adult consumption was now more than 25pc lower than 2001 levels. It said that consumption peaked at the equivalent of 14.44 litres of pure alcohol per adult in 2001, and since then had declined to 10.73 litres.
However, it argued that despite the fall in overall consumption, problem drinking was still a major factor in Irish society.
Peter O'Brien, chairman of the Drinks Industry Group of Ireland, said: "While today's figures are indicative of a fall in alcohol consumption in Ireland there is still a problem of alcohol misuse by the minority and we can all agree that there is a notable culture of tolerance for alcohol abuse which must be addressed.
"While increases in excise duty may contribute to a reduction in overall consumption, it does very little if anything to influence how alcohol is actually consumed," he added.
The new data came as Ireland marked the opening of alcohol awareness week.
Aiseiri – Ireland's dedicated teen treatment facility – has now merged its treatment and rehabilitation services.
Under the move, four previously autonomous addiction centres across the south-east will now work together in a co-ordinated manner.