Children as young as 14 treated for alcohol problems in Plymouth
CHILDREN aged as young as 14 are receiving treatment for alcohol problems in Plymouth.
Official figures show there are 54 youngsters aged under 18 in the city getting help through substance misuse services, where booze was given as the main cause. This included 21 in the 14-15 year old category, and 33 aged 16-17.
The chief executive of Plymouth's Harbour Drug and Alcohol Services said the figures – published by the National Drug Treatment Monitoring Service – were "not shocking".
Jeremy Prichard, of Harbour, which has a contract with Plymouth City Council's children's services to work with young people experiencing alcohol problems, said he believed there was "no doubt" that children were drinking more, because of "easy access" to alcohol.
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And Councillor Nicky Williams, cabinet member for Children and Young people in Plymouth, described the situation as "awful" for those young people experiencing these problems.
She added: "Drinking brings more problems in its own right; relationships, finance, work, schoolwork or families all take a back seat with problem drinkers. It spirals out of control.
"We recognise this and are doing everything we can to identify substance abuse by young people and get them the appropriate support."
The figures reveal that the number of youngsters being treated for substance misuse where alcohol is the main problem varies widely between local areas.
The Government point out this may be due to differences in prevalence of the problem, or in the way services are provided, such as providing brief targeted intervention in cases of less specialist need.
And it adds those with drink or drug problems are likely to be vulnerable and experiencing a range of other difficulties, of which substance misuse is one.
Plans were published nationally earlier this year aimed at tackling the problems caused by excessive drinking.
This included proposals for a minimum price of 40p per unit of alcohol for England and Wales to clamp down on the problem, which costs the UK an estimated £21 billion a year.
The Alcohol Strategy would also see the sale of multi-buy discount deals banned.
Statistics on the number of under-18s in each local authority area who access substance misuse services where alcohol is given as the primary problem were revealed in response to a parliamentary question.
It was not possible to say if the youngsters were being treated for alcohol dependency as it is a clinical term, the extent of which depends on an assessment by a healthcare professional.
Anne Milton, the then Health Minister said in her written parliamentary response: "Young people's treatment needs differ from those of adults. Very few young people develop dependency. "Those who use drugs or alcohol problematically are likely to be vulnerable and experiencing a range of problems, of which substance misuse is one.
"The majority of young people accessing specialist alcohol interventions require dependency. Most young people need to be involved with specialist alcohol interventions for a short period of time, often weeks, before continuing with further support elsewhere, within an integrated young people's care plan."
CHEAP DRINKS AND ALCOPOPS ARE FUELLING THE PROBLEM
THE boss of a drug and alcohol rehabilitation service says he suspects that alcohol problems in children are probably worse than official figures suggest.
Jeremy Prichard, chief executive of Plymouth's Harbour Drug and Alcohol Services, said the solution was only to be achieved through education.
"As a service provider these figures don't surprise me. I suspect there are more problems out there but I don't have the evidence for that, " he said.
"We just need to make sure that those who are having problems with alcohol know about our service, have easy access to it and don't ever hesitate to get in touch.
"We don't judge anyone who comes through our doors and, if needs be, we will come to you. We will meet people anywhere they feel comfortable."
He said the "relative cheapness" of alcohol made it more accessible than ever.
"Age limit is no prevention for young people getting alcohol," he said. "Young people will just get others to buy it for them.
"It's the marketing of alcohol and alcopops that get people into drinking. If you just add sugar to a drink it makes it easier to drink – then some develop a problem with it.
"When I was young the only access to alcohol we had was at home and that was restricted. There is no doubt that over time as access has become easier there has been an increase in those developing problems."
He said awareness, education and "catching a problem" early were the best solutions.
"There can be any reasons young people start drinking – peer pressure, the pressures of life – I cannot answer why people drink but often alcohol is the symptom of other problems. The more we can do in the education field, making people aware of what alcoholism is, the less we will have to do at the treatment stage."
Cllr Nicky Williams, cabinet member for Children and Young people in Plymouth said a lot was being done in the city.
She added: "We are investing in an early intervention and prevention approach so we can work with other agencies to identify young people who may be risk of substance abuse so we can prevent the problem in the first place."
She said Plymouth City Council had commissioned Harbour Drug and Alcohol Services to deliver "specialist alcohol interventions" to those in most need.
She added: "Our Youth Service also helps young people address their drinking issues. We are also working to ensure families experiencing alcohol problems can address their misuse."
Young people who would like help from Harbour can call a phone line especially for them on 01752 434295.