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Drink and drug messages are hitting home

Along with colleagues at Warwickshire NHS, we at the Drug and Alcohol Action Team (DAAT) welcomed last month’s report from the National Centre for Social Research which revealed that young people’s attitudes to drink and drugs are changing.

The report uses 2010 survey data from a sample of over 7000 secondary schools pupils and makes some interesting observations about young people’s shifting attitudes toward smoking, drugs and alcohol.

Less young people are drinking alcohol according to the survey which reports that 45 per cent of pupils said they had drunk alcohol once or more in 2010 compared to 61 per cent in 2003.

Their tolerance of drinking and drunkenness among their peers has also reduced. For example, in 2010, 32 per cent agreed that it was acceptable for someone of their age to drink alcohol once a week, compared with 46 per cent in 2003.

Cautiously optimistic that the survey is the start of a shift in both opinion and behaviour DAAT Strategy Team Manager Paul Hooper said: “These figures are encouraging but we must not get complacent. We know that liver disease amongst the young is on the increase and alcohol-related hospital admissions continue to rise.

“Society as a whole will benefit from reduced alcohol consumption in the younger generation so we must continue to offer them education and support around substance misuse and the dangers of this behaviour.

“Warwickshire takes a collaborative approach to tackling this issue working with the NHS, schools, colleges support services and treatment providers working together to reduce the risk posed to youngsters.

“A lot of progress has been made in the last few years to change attitudes and prevent harm and we will continue to invest resources to reduce the number of young people experimenting with cigarettes, drugs and alcohol even further.”

The survey also revealed that pupils’ drinking behaviour is influenced by the views and behaviour of their families, with young people being less likely to drink if their parents disapprove, and more likely to drink if this is tolerated at home.

Just over half of pupils (51 per cent) said their families didn’t like them drinking. Almost as many (48 per cent) said their families didn’t mind them drinking, as long as they didn’t drink too much, with a very small proportion (1 per cent) who said their parents let them drink as much as they like.

Similar downward trends were reported in the young people’s attitude to drugs and smoking. In the 2010 sample, 18 per cent of pupils reported ever having taken drugs which is a decrease from 29 per cent in 2001. Smoking is also less popular, in 2010 27 per cent of pupils said they had smoked at least once, compared with 44 per cent in 2001.

John Linnane, Warwickshire’s Joint Director of Public Health added: “This report presents some reassuring views but there is still more to be done to educate young people about the dangers of substance misuse from an early age.

“The numbers of young people who drink regularly are still high enough to result in a future health time bomb. In terms of development the liver is not fully functioning until age 20 and the brain is not finally formed until age 24 which puts the Chief Medical Officer recommendations that nobody should drink until 15 into some context.

“Parents are pivotal to education and to shaping the attitudes of young people towards alcohol. Therefore we encourage parents to continue to talk to their children about the dangers of alcohol and other substances, set clear boundaries for them, and offer a responsible example for them to follow through their own use of alcohol.”

The report ‘Smoking, drinking and drug use among young people in England 2010’ is available on the NHS Information Centre website

For information and support about Warwickshire’s approach to tackling alcohol and drug misuse go to our webpage

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