Kids drinking at an earlier age

One glass of beer is just the beginning. The next step is shots at parties. Ready-to-drink mixes sold at kiosks, more like soft drinks than cocktails, are the mid-stage in the transition to heavier drinks. Consumed on a daily basis by some teenagers, these now comprise 2.5 percent of the total alcohol market. Producers have been marketing these drinks in Greece over the past 6-7 years. Their popularity with young consumers is firstly because they cost less than a regular alcoholic drink and secondly because there is less chance of them being adulterated. «It’s okay, we’re grown up now,» is the answer given by 14-year-olds to the question as to why they drink. According to surveys, seven in 10 primary schoolchildren in Greece have tried alcohol, one in five drinks beer at least once a month and one in seven wine. In the 18-25 age group, 8 percent drink alcohol regularly, and one in 20 have caused an alcohol-related accident. One in three claims to have driven while drunk at least once. «Unfortunately, Greece is not enacting the European Action Plan on Alcohol established by the World Health Organisation 12 years ago,» said Costas Ballas, national coordinator of European Narcotics Watch. Schoolchildren themselves describe their increasing tendency to drink. «I remember one evening some kids my age (13-14) had mixed their drinks and, of course, went out of control. You know things have got out of hand when you see these kids going to cafes in the morning and putting away unbelievable amounts of alcohol,» said Nikos Kelidis, a pupil in the second year of junior high. «Usually it starts at a party or by copying an older brother or friend who gets younger kids started. Of course, the problem is more prevalent among boys.» Timos Kaloudis, a 16-year-old first-year senior high school pupil said he drinks but only at parties and then not more than a glass. But he has seen what excesses can result from drinking too much: «Quite a lot of kids drink anything, even hard drinks like tequila and whiskey. Their parents don’t usually know. Personally, I don’t think alcohol is the way to have fun and it sure isn’t the way to make someone stand out in a crowd. The opposite, I would say,» he said. So why do kids drink? «These days they don’t have a neighborhood life or a group of friends, or ways of learning how to communicate apart from impersonal TV-viewing,» said Professor Giorgos Piperopoulos of Macedonia University’s psychology-sociology department. «Strange as it may seem, our kids are stressed and at the same time incapable of listening to one of their peers talking about his or her problems or concerns. Even worse, they are trapped in their introversion and the widespread paranoia of the times, incapable of trusting a peer with their problems.» The causes are cultural or psychological. «We know that alcohol removes all inhibitions,» says Costas Ballas, a psychiatrist. For example, a boy will drink at a party because it makes it easier for him to talk to a girl, gives him more self-confidence and creates an emotional high. However, he could lose control and even get into a fight. Naturally, a young person’s constitution is more easily affected by alcohol.» The effects of alcohol on health depend upon the person’s constitution, age and other biological factors, such as body type. Smaller and thinner people get drunk more easily than the taller and more heavily built. There are some people whose bodies cannot break down alcohol, as they lack a particular enzyme. «Alcohol, particularly in young people, reduces the synapses in the brain’s control system, that is, it prevents integrated thought. The drinker becomes confused, as the function of the frontal lobes is reduced by 10 percent, affecting the person’s judgement, memory and perception of reality,» said Ballas. On the other hand, experts say that drinking in moderation, particularly as an accompaniment to a meal, and with water, is not harmful. «Once we used to drink at family celebrations with our parents and relations; we slowly got used to the relaxing properties of alcohol, along with losing a sense of moderation and responsibility. Nowadays, drink is a replacement for a mistaken idea of masculinity, femininity and showing off,» said Piperopoulos. «All my first year students say they have been drunk at least once in their lives or have seen their fellow pupils in a bad way from drink.»