One too many

4th September 1998 at 01:00
Reva Klein on the lure of alcohol

Nick has made a major discovery over the summer. Alcohol. He had been given the odd taste of wine and beer by his parents, and his response ("EEUUUCHHHHH! How can you drink this stuff?") had been reassuring.

But that was before a couple of his older mates initiated him into the brotherhood of teenage rebellion with a bottle of cheap cider one damp and endless July afternoon at the park.

It was sweet and easy to drink. And, best of all, it made him feel happy and uninhibited, neither of which he felt much of now that his hormones were wreaking havoc on his moods and his complexion. The cider's so nice, in fact, that he's taken to drinking with his friends a few times a week after school and at least once over the weekend. Buying it isn't difficult, since the tall lads go to a local off-licence where no questions are asked.

It's when he gets home that things get a bit tricky. So far, he's managed to say he's tired and goes straight up to his room. When he surfaces a few hours later, supper time's long past and he doesn't have to face close scrutiny. But he can't keep it up much longer without getting into trouble; he does stupid things like coming on all tough to his friends, acting provocatively to passers-by or behaving obnoxiously with any girl unlucky enough to cross his path.

The after-effects are unsustainable, too. When he comes home wrecked, homework is the last thing on his mind, so it doesn't get done. The day after, his head is fuzzy and he feels permanently tired and unmotivated. His form tutor has noticed a marked difference in him over the summer and is poised to contact his mother. As far as she's concerned, his mum feels she has a stranger in her midst and puts it down to adolesence.

Experimenting with alcohol is a rite of passage for people of Nick's age. According to a survey of young people's drinking patterns commissioned by the Portman Group, a quarter of 13-year-olds have an alcoholic drink once a week and 13 per cent drink more often than that. By the time they reach 16, the number has risen to over a third, with a slighter higher number of that age-group drinking more than once a week. Far fewer girls than boys drink more than once a week. Among the boys, the lightest drinkers are those whose father's occupation (why don't researchers ever look at mothers?) is categorised as professionalmanagerial. And, those who drink most often are likely to drink to excess, to try a drug, to have sex and to get involved in criminal behaviour.

Nick's just at the beginning of the slippery slope. Without intervention, he could have a rough ride ahead of him.

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