Sober stuff to consider on alcohol

13th August 2004 at 01:00
The odd term "alcohol abuse" (as if it is the alcohol that suffers) is a verbal tiptoe around the fact that a normal, pleasurable indulgence is the basis for a serious challenge to health and welfare - particularly of children - and particularly of Welsh children, it seems.

It is not just the poisonous effects of excess alcohol. The increasing incidence of drunkenness among the young exposes them to sexual predation, pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases. Alcohol fuels the nightly violence of many city centres, which led one Welsh surgeon to claim that "beer glasses are by far the most common weapon of assault today in Britain".

As our page 3 story shows, there are projects which attempt to counter the trends towards more underage binge-drinking in Wales. But it is the Government which has liberalised opening hours and which makes cheap booze possible. The justification is that alcohol is safe as long as it is not abused. The same could be said of a loaded gun.

Yet there must be more to binge drinking than price and availability. The British are infamous for their boorish drinking habits abroad. And what is it that makes Wales particularly stand out in the adolescent binge-drinking league table of Europe?

Is there an alcohol culture peculiar either to the Welsh or the communities that make up the industrialised and populated South? There are strong indications that many child drinkers in Wales are likely to be influenced by their parents' attitudes. Nearly one in five 12 and 13-year-olds rated their parents as alcohol-dependent.

Clearly when schools tackle these issues - as they are forced to earlier and earlier - they must be aware that encouraging caution or abstinence is likely to run counter to the prevailing culture in many homes, just as anti-smoking messages led to fears among young children that their parents would die and resentment from parents that schools were criticising their lifestyles.

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