Friday, June 30, 2006

Looking in from the outside

It's funny how different a culture looks when you view it from the outside. I had never thought of my culture as being particularly alcoholic until after I moved. I remember someone challenging me in grad school in the USA when I rejected their offer of cocaine - "You're such a hypocrite, you look down your nose at people who do recreational drugs, but you abuse alcohol!" I had never thought of myself as someone who abused alcohol (and certainly never as an alcoholic!) But when I thought about it, I realized that although I didn't drink every day I did in fact binge drink. Many years later I quit drinking altogether for a while in reaction to dating an alcoholic. I picked it up again a while later, but have never indulged in binge drinking again.

I was still somewhat surprised reading on the BBC news website today:

Nearly one in four secondary school children aged 11-15 reported that they had drunk alcohol in the past week when surveyed in 2005.

Then I thought about it - at 13 my mother sent me to parties with a litre of (hard) cider. Clearly we were all drinking! (OK, there was one party where in response to the request BYOB, I brought a pint of milk! People thought I was really weird, but it got drunk!) Although I didn't drink every day, I was allowed wine with lunch on Sunday, I would guess from at least the age of 13. So - had that been me being surveyed, I probably would have answered the same way. But what REALLY surprised me was the following:

The average amount of alcohol consumed by this age group doubled between 1990 and 2000 and currently remains at 10.4 units (or about 10 small glasses of wine or five pints of beer) per week.

An average of 10 small glasses of wine a week?! I don't drink that now, let alone when I was a teenager!!! That does seem like a lot! Especially given what we now know about the adolescent brain and the influence of alcohol on it. (And of course remembering that 10.4 units is an average, so there are clearly 15 year-olds in the UK who drink more than that!) I wonder what the statistics are for American teenagers? Although this report is about older teenagers, it seems to imply that the problem is just as big in the US, with 16% of those surveyed having reported that they have blacked out from drinking. I think one serious issue in the US is that in general the driving age is lower, and teenagers are much more likely to have a car. Looks like we have some serious education work to do on both sides of the Atlantic!

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