Cheap Alcohol Strongly Linked to Underage Drinking in the UK

Posted on October 19th, 2009

Researchers writing in the open access journal BMC Public Health studied the drinking habits of 9,833 15- to 16-year-olds in the North West of England, finding that excessively low cost alcohol products and illicit purchase are strongly related to harmful underage drinking.

Science Daily reports that Mark Bellis worked with a team from Liverpool John Moores University and Trading Standards (North West) to survey the teens’ alcohol consumption patterns, types of drinks consumed, drinking locations, methods of access, and harms encountered.

"Regretted sex after drinking, having been involved in violence when drunk, consuming alcohol in public places, and forgetting things after drinking had all been experienced by relatively large proportions of teen drinkers. For children who drink alcohol we did not find any typical drinking patterns where children were at no risk of harms. Accessing alcohol through parents did not remove the risks of alcohol related harms but was associated with lower levels of risk,” Bellis said.

While 19.9% of teen drinkers whose parents provide alcohol and who drink once a week had been involved in violence when drunk, this rose to 35.9% in those who only access alcohol through other means.

The researchers found a strong relationship between consumption of cheaper alcohol products and increased proportions of respondents reporting violence when drunk, alcohol-related regretted sex, and drinking in public places.

Drinking large cider bottles was, in particular, associated with drinking in public areas such as streets, parks, and outside shops. At the time of the study, alcopops (wine coolers and malt beverages) were not associated with increased risk of harm, perhaps because their relatively high price per unit of alcohol limited their abuse potential.

"The negative impacts of alcohol on children’s health are substantial. Those parents who choose to allow children aged 15-16 years to drink may limit harms by restricting consumption to lower frequencies (e.g. no more than once a week) and under no circumstances permitting binge drinking,” Bellis said.

“However, parental efforts should be matched by genuine legislative and enforcement activity to reduce independent access to alcohol by children and to increase the price of cheap alcohol products."

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