Youth drinking is a significant problem in many countries and is a major cause of alcohol-related injury and disease. Many injuries result in admission to the Emergency Department, and the harsh reality is that these injuries are avoidable.
Excessive alcohol consumption is a major problem in many societies around the world. The effects of alcohol abuse on short- and long-term health places a considerable burden on healthcare systems. The effects on behaviour can also be harmful: individuals take unnecessary risks or act more aggressively, which can lead to needless injuries and even death. A concerning number of youths engage in drinking on a regular basis with no apparent awareness of the effects this has on their health or behaviour, and many incur alcohol-related injuries that are serious enough to land them in the Emergency Department. The statistics for youth drinking vary by country: for example, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 4 men 16-35 years of age drink several times a week in Israel, and 48% of 16-24-year-olds consume alcohol each week in Great Britain.
A recent commentary in the Israel Journal of Health and Policy Research suggests novel strategies to engage and educate youth about alcohol-related risks. Research in the UK found that 18-24-year-olds mainly enjoy the social aspects of binge drinking. This age group was unlikely to take much notice of lectures or messages highlighting the potential health risks of excessive drinking. In response, an alcohol-education charity called Drinkaware developed a novel intervention strategy in 2014. By looking at the social and cultural factors involved in youth drinking, they found that young people were most concerned about the indirect and unwanted consequences of binge drinking, such as sexual harassment. Drinkaware designed a campaign to stigmatize sexual harassment during outings and also provided in-venue support crews. The results of this 3-year programme will be published in 2018.
Similar methods could be used worldwide to influence the attitudes and behaviours associated with excessive and harmful youth drinking. An important part of developing these campaigns includes gathering information from Emergency Departments to provide an understanding of how alcohol consumption contributes to injuries and the extent of these injuries. Having this background information can help identify issues that concern youth, which can then be used to design effective interventions that are relevant and engaging for young people.
Written by Natasha Tetlow, PhD
Larsen, J. Youth drinking and acute harm: a perspective from the UK on effective management opportunities. Isr J Health Policy Res. 2017;6:41. Available at: doi: 10.1186/s13584-017-0165-0