13-year-olds given help for alcohol problems in Suffolk

BINGE-drinking is being blamed by a leading Suffolk charity after it emerged children as young as 13 have been treated for alcohol problems.

Three 13-year-olds are among 178 youngsters who were given assistance with their drink-related issues between 2008-10, despite specialist interventions falling by nearly 20pc.

The figures were obtained following a Freedom of Information request to Suffolk County Council.

They have prompted the independent charity NORCAS, which helps Suffolk and Norfolk youngsters with alcohol issues, to blame the curse of binge drinking.

A spokeswoman for the youth team at NORCAS said: 'In our experience young people are more at risk from acute problems relating to binge drinking than they are from alcohol addiction, although addiction is not unheard of.

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'Identification of young people abusing alcohol can be difficult, as users can become secretive and isolated.

'The reasons why young people become problematic drinkers are numerous but, like adults, often boil down to some underlying experience, worry or trauma that they are trying to deal with.

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'These could be problems at school, home, or with relationships and range from problems with coursework to being the victims of abuse or anything in-between.

'At best, alcohol will only provide a smokescreen to hide your problems for short periods of time and the cost of that smokescreen could be very expensive to your health.

'Support includes interventions to identify motivation for change as well as alternative coping strategies, looking at harm reduction and health advice, recognising any underlying issues and empowering young people to achieve their goals.'

Specialist interventions - which are designed to stop youngsters becoming alcoholics - dropped from 97 13-18 year olds in 2008/09 to 81 in 2009/10.

The assistance, which is aimed at children that have got themselves into trouble because of drink, usually comes in the form of a three- or six-month plans to stop them sliding towards alcoholism.

Sharon Jarrett, Suffolk County Council's commissioning manager for young people's substance misuse, said: 'In this two year period, the number of young people receiving specialist interventions because of alcohol-related problems is relatively small, and has reduced, but it is important that they all receive appropriate support if and when they need it.'

'We should be clear that we are not talking about alcoholism here. The support that a young person needs varies from case to case. But in all cases, this is about offering help at an early stage - getting them to think about what they are doing and changing their behaviour - so as to prevent more serious problems from occurring in the future.'

Dr Mashbileg Maidrag, NHS Suffolk's public health consultant said: 'It is important that the issue of alcohol misuse among young people is addressed. Young people need to be aware of the dangers of starting to drink alcohol early in life, and the serious health problems this can cause.

'Reducing the level of abuse requires early intervention and input from education, health and social care agencies as well the education of parents and young people.'

• For more information on support for alcohol, drug and gambling problems log on to www.norcas.org.uk.

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