Recent news articles have headlined the latest research to show the increasing trend in young people to drink alcohol to excess, with 6,500 under 18s admitted to A&E in 2012-2013. Overall figures might be falling but NHS professionals are concerned that there is an underlying trend for young people to start drinking younger, and those that do drink more heavily.
There are direct links between alcohol use and the development of teenage brains. The effects of alcohol and other substances, not just on memory and academic attainment but also on emotional intelligence and behaviour are clear. Worryingly, the outcomes of these influences can take many years to manifest themselves. When they do the damage done is harder to repair, both physically and mentally. Not just for the individual but their family, friends and the wider community as a whole.
Sadly, to many of us, none of this is news. Relying on A&E departments to deal with the immediate effects, and the NHS as a whole to handle the long-term outcomes, is clearly not the answer. Educating young people about the risks and consequences should be a crucial part of their school experience, but we most also empower them to be able to make informed choices. Fundamental to this is for all of us to recognise that the life of a teenager cannot be defined in absolutes.
Words like “no” and “don’t” are not enough. Facts, figures and statistics are only part of the way of engage with them on this issue. Temptation, peer influence and the abundance of marketing messages have subtle, telling and concerning effects on attitudes towards alcohol and their perceptions and preconceptions. By working with young people on behavioural and emotional levels we help them agree realistic, achievable strategies that reflect the world they live in.
Prevention through pre-emptive education gets results.
It’s not about grabbing headlines, it’s about improving lives.