Binge drinking on the rise amongst Dutch teens
"Pear liqueur, a can of beer, some whisky and then some wine." The number of children in the Netherlands hospitalised with alcohol poisoning has increased by almost 50 percent in the space of a year.
Paediatricians treated around 500 children for "serious alcohol-related incidents" in 2009, double the number treated in 2008.
It appears that the numerous anti-alcohol campaigns have had absolutely no effect. The way that children drink borders on the absurd. This 15-year-old girl is just one alarming example: "Erm, a few glasses of pear liqueur first, then a can of beer, a little whisky and then a glass with a bit of everything; wine, whisky, liqueur and stuff."
She survived but an ambulance rushed her to hospital with flashing lights and blaring sirens. She was taken to intensive care immediately.
Mireille de Visser is a child psychologist working at a specialised alcohol outpatients’ clinic at Reinier de Graaf Hospital in Delft. It was the first specialised alcohol outpatients’ clinic in the Netherlands and has been at the forefront in treating child binge drinking.
How should one respond to the news that has been a 50 percent increase in the number of children drinking themselves into a coma in just 12 months time? Even though it sounds cynical, De Visser believes that binge drinking has become fashionable:
"It's available everywhere and there’s no control. Can you say it’s fashionable among teens? Yes, it is. They have the idea, 'you're 16, so you drink'. Setting the legal age limit at 16 has had the opposite effect to that intended. It was supposed to discourage children from drinking but what they actually think is I'm 16, so I'll drink anything and everything because it's legal."
According to Ms de Visser, one of the reasons that things go so alarmingly wrong with children between the ages of 11 and 17 is ignorance about alcohol. Children are simply not aware of the different alcohol content in beer, wine or whisky."Teenagers drink everything in huge gulps, it doesn't matter if it's vodka or beer."
Another reason that kids and teens drink everything mixed together is because they drink whatever is available. It does make one ponder the usefulness of anti-alcohol campaigns that have been running two years. What needs to be changed in order to make them more effective?
Mireille de Visser says they need to be clearer: teenagers and their parents should be made to understand that alcohol should be considered an absolute taboo until the brain has fully developed. Only then can the young adult make a considered decision about whether to drink or not. The human brain is fully developed at 24 and becomes less vulnerable to the harmful effects of alcohol.
De Visser describes how things can go wrong precisely because people are aware that it’s legal for young people to start drinking at 16.
"What you see is that parents think, well, my child is 16 now, so they buy in alcohol for them, then go out because parents don’t belong at a teenage party. Then the 14 and 15-year-olds who also come to the party drink the alcohol, though really even the 16-year-olds shouldn't be drinking."
The Netherlands needs to change the legal drinking age. Anti-alcohol campaigns should be crystal clear. Child psychologist Mireille de Visser says teenagers are "incapable of drinking sensibly".
Thijs Westerbeek van Eerten