Children as young as 11 are getting so drunk that they are hospitalised, a paediatrician told the British Medical Association's conference in Edinburgh. There were young patients on his ward every week with blood alcohol levels of 350mg per 100ml. The limit for driving is 80mg. They have to be linked up to dextrose drips to rehydrate them.
Doctors in an accident and emergency unit in Lanarkshire referred a girl of 13 for counselling after she repeatedly came to the unit drunk.
Robin Davies said there should be a ban on using alcohol in alcopops and carbonated drinks, a market reportedly worth more than Pounds 250 million a year. "Alcopops are deliberately targeted at children through their marketing and packaging," Dr Davies said. "The average district general hospital paediatric unit will have one or two patients aged between 11 and 15 every weekend who come in absolutely comatose, go on a 5 per cent dextrose drip and wake up in the morning. That is only the tip of the iceberg because we only see the ones that are brought in unconscious after their friends have called an ambulance."
Drinks such as strong cider, wine and sherry were also involved. "Can anyone be seriously targeting adults with drinks like lemonade, cherry and even milk?" Ian McLaren, an accident and emergency consultant at Monklands Hospital, is alarmed at the high consumption of Buckfast, a fortified wine, among local teenagers. "These young people are not only risking alcoholism but serious and more immediate injury through walking in front of cars while intoxicated, " Dr McLaren said.
Vivienne Mathanson, head of research and resources at the BMA, said: "Studies in Glasgow have shown that it is the sweet tasting designer drinks that have got young people started and they then moved on to ciders and lagers."
Dr Mathanson added: "The fact that many drink to the extent of being admitted to hospital and put on drips is alarming. We do not know if they continue binge drinking but we think they will begin to show cirrhosis or signs of chronic alcohol problems over 20 years."
She believes health education is vital. A study by the Scottish Council of Alcohol shows that only 19 per cent of drinkers had their first drink at home in a controlled environment with parents or other adults. Studies have revealed that under-age drinking is more prevalent in Scotland than elsewhere in the UK.
One in five girls aged 14 or 15 will have alcopops at least once a week. The average weekly spending on alcohol is Pounds 4.20.