Recent reports say that in Northern Ireland more than half of young people aged between 11 and 16 say they have had an alcoholic drink at some point in their lives.
So what is the big problem?
Essentially, underage drinking is breaking the law. Alcohol is a drug and just like all legal and illegal drugs, the misuse of it can be just as damaging. Your body is still developing and growing and isn’t equipped to deal with the harmful toxins that alcohol contains.
But everyone else does it?
It may seem that everywhere you look there are people doing it. Songs on the radio are telling you to ‘live while you’re young’ and to ‘party’ and not to worry about the consequences. However, the scary thing about alcohol is that the majority of health risks develop over time. Diseases such as liver cirrhosis and cancer of the mouth take time to develop so it is easy not to think about them from weekend to weekend.
Do you think about the long term risks?
Dr Martin Dempster, Doctor of Clinical Psychology at Queen’s University Belfast, does not think that it is helpful for you to hear about these risks.
He said: “Young people drink because they see it with a positive attitude, as a good thing to do. Kids aren’t drinking because they enjoy it. They enjoy the company and the being part of the group. No-body wants to be on the outside.
“Liver disease, brain injury and the risk of cancer are seen as 20 years away. It is not relevant and they know it won’t affect them this weekend. We need to change the messages and make them relevant,” concluded Dr Dempster.
As well as long term risks, there are just as many immediate effects including injuries – and you’re often likely to end up in the hospital. Your attitude to alcohol will depend quite a bit on the way that alcohol was treated in your home as you were growing up. If it was forbidden, you might feel like rebelling but equally if it was a common thing to drink in the house then you might be more inclined to fall in to this drinking culture.
Within your local council in Newry, they have a civic forum. This is a group which meets to discuss issues in the community. The Civic Alcohol and Drugs forum aims to build a vision of collective responsibility among the wider community in relation to alcohol and drugs. This means that they try and get everyone in the Newry and Mourne Area to support what they are doing and to think about drugs and alcohol in a responsible way. They have campaigns to raise awareness of this, and you can get involved in them.
Recent examples are, ‘Best served with Water Campaign’. This was encouraging people to consume a glass of water for each glass of alcohol the consumed. As well as this, one of your councillors, Pat McGinn, works for an organisation called Cuan Mhuire. The Cuan Mhuire (Sr Consilios) Addiction Support Centre is one of Ireland’s largest voluntary providers of rehabilitation treatment. The centre deals with the far end of addiction which doesn’t only help addicts but also the impact that addiction has on their families.
Pat McGinn takes part in talks in schools to tell young people about what can happen when you become seriously dependant on alcohol and drugs.
He said: “A lot of young people when we discuss alcohol think that getting drunk is normal. They are drinking to get drunk. What we need to do is turn the tide against binge drinking.
Do young people want to hear older people telling them not to drink?
Councillor McGinn says: “I believe that it is a community problem and a culture problem. 300 lives are lost a year due to alcohol misuse directly. There is no point in an older person saying, ‘Don’t be drinking’, we have to plant the seed and make it relevant.
“We need people to realise the human cost. Facts and figures don’t always convey the human aspect,” he concluded.
For more information on this contact your council on 028 3031 3031. If you are worried about your consumption of alcohol- contact the Cuan Mhuire on 028 3084 9010.
Remember that help is always available.