Why should children bring alcohol to school?

Don't look away when children are drinking!

Every weekend, an average of 140 children with alcohol poisoning are admitted to clinics across Germany. That number has almost tripled in eight years. 160,000 children and adolescents are at risk from alcohol abuse and addiction. Protection of minors must be taken more seriously and regulations must be applied more consistently, demands the Child Health Foundation.

Alcohol consumption among under 20-year-olds has declined continuously over the past 40 years. In the 1970s, more than 60 percent of 15 to 17-year-old boys in Bavaria regularly drank alcohol, but this proportion fell to 23 percent by 2008.

According to a study by the Federal Center for Health Education, the proportion of 12 to 17-year-olds who drink in a coma or binge drink has also decreased from 26 percent in 2007 to 20 percent in 2008. At the same time, however, the proportion of those who get drunk to the point of intoxication is increasing. So whoever drinks drinks more and more extreme, more and faster.

Binge drinking is defined as alcohol consumption that produces a blood alcohol concentration of at least 0.8 per mille within two hours, reports Professor Berthold Koletzko, chairman of the foundation.

The result is not infrequently a deep, prolonged unconsciousness without reactions to speech or pain stimuli. Alcohol poisoning has worse consequences for children and adolescents than for adults, emphasizes the foundation. One reason for this: the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase is not yet effective in children.

In addition, children and adolescents usually do not drink as part of a meal, but with the aim of getting drunk quickly. Acute consequences of alcohol intoxication can be:

• Derailment in the acid-base balance with brain swelling and kidney failure;

• lack of potassium, which can lead to cardiac arrhythmias;

• hypoglycaemia; Hypothermia and vomiting combined with reflex paralysis and the risk of death from suffocation;

• epileptic seizures and cerebral infarctions.

The greatest danger of alcohol in children and adolescents is not the imminent dependence, but accidents, aggressive derailments, skipping school, drunk mopeds, arguments, fights and conflicts with the law. Young girls are three times more likely to become victims of sexual abuse.

"The first alcohol experience nowadays often takes place very early - that is why prevention against alcohol abuse should begin at an early stage," says Koletzko. "In the 5th to 7th grade at the latest, children should also be taught the dangers of misconduct in dealing with alcohol and smoking."

Alcohol must remain taboo until the age of 14, emphasizes the foundation. After that, it is best for adolescents to learn to deal with alcohol in their own home. 14- to 15-year-olds can try a glass of sparkling wine, wine or beer with their parents on special occasions.

From the age of 16 adolescents can consume wine or beer, while spirits are only tolerated in adulthood. Unfortunately, many parents nowadays usually leave the introduction to alcohol consumption to chance instead of consciously shaping it in the circle of the family.

Measures that can prevent abuse are advocated. Bans on the sale of alcohol to children and young people should be monitored more closely, and violations should be punished consistently and sensitively.

Advertising for alcoholic beverages aimed at young people and sponsorship should be limited, the foundation demands. The nightly sale of alcohol at petrol stations, for example, should be banned - as in Baden-Württemberg and in many European countries.

Tips for parents on how to deal with alcohol

The most important guide in dealing with alcohol is and will remain the home. The guiding principle is: Instead of pronouncing deterrents and prohibitions, parents should set an example themselves. You can be recommended:

• If a child has drunk alcohol without their knowledge, parents should take time to chat in a quiet atmosphere. They should ask the child why and state their own concerns.

• Parents should express their clear position on the incident and consistently demand compliance with binding rules.

• Even if a child or a young person reacts with the protests typical for this age, parents should make it clear to the child that alcohol is not for children. (eb)