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Why are so many children being treated for alcohol misuse?

Health professionals are blaming poor celebrity role models and cheap alcohol for the fact that 3,200 children as young as 12 needed treatment for alcohol misuse last year.1  

But what of the nearly one in three children who live with a binge drinking parent?2  This news makes it remarkable that many more children haven’t been treated for alcohol problems, given the powerful influence that parents have over their children’s behaviour. 

This begs the question why so many adults are binge drinking – even those who should know better because they have taken on the responsibility of parenthood.  Why has excessive drinking come to be seen as the norm instead of the reprehensible exception?

Clever marketing by the alcohol producers is certainly partly to blame.  What was the purpose of adding 4% alcohol to soft drinks?  Alcopops not only appealed to adults who might find more sophisticated (and less sweet) alcoholic drinks distasteful, they were also enjoyed by young people, some of whom consumed them like the soft drinks they mimic.   The industry has also been criticised for using social media to promote alcohol brands.

Then there are the supermarkets which have frequently used alcoholic beverages as loss leaders, prominently displayed, making them so cheap that young people could easily afford them – or ‘borrow’ them from their parents’ stock.

Education – in schools and by voluntary organisations like Hope UK – has made an impact and more children and young people are choosing alcohol-free lifestyles.3  Even the National Treatment Agency report on which the bad news was based is actually positive about the fact that the numbers of young people needing treatment is falling.  This is good news because young, immature brains and bodies are more vulnerable to being damaged by alcohol. 

Nevertheless, the fact remains that some of the 45% of 11-15 year-olds who do drink, are drinking too much and ending up in hospital or in treatment centres.

Churches can and do make a difference in their communities by running youth groups where Christian values have a positive impact on behaviour.   For Christians who want to go a step further, Hope UK offers drug awareness for parents and youth workers, as well as training for volunteers who want to get involved in reducing drug and alcohol-related harm.    Visit for more information.


1 MP Ann Milton’s response to question by MP Tracey Crouch on 3rd September 2012

2UK, under 16 years, Manning et al. 2009 – quoted in Children’s Commissioners’ report ‘Silent Voice’: supporting children and young people affected by parental alcohol misuse Sept 2012. 

3 Smoking, drinking and drug use among young people inEngland in 2011, NHS Information Centre, 2012



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