Underage drinking spiraling

Adolescents aged as young as 12 are consuming alcohol regularly due to inadequate inspections of stores and bars and irresponsible advertising which conceals the health risks linked to heavy drinking, a new study by Athens University has shown. Of some 1,100 teenagers aged 12 to 19 questioned for the study half (49 percent) said they drink alcohol up to five times a month, with 8.3 percent claiming to drink between six and 35 times a month. More than four in 10 (42.8 percent) of the respondents claimed to get drunk at least once a month, while 21 percent claim to drink to excess three or more times a month. The cases of excessive drinking are fueling particular concern. «Adolescents are drinking more and more strong alcohol and there has been an increase in the number of those who end up in the hospital after excessive drinking,» said Constantinos Tsoumakos, an honorary professor of Athens University who led the study. But the consumption of smaller amounts of alcohol on a regular basis is also a worry, experts say, as youngsters are usually unaware of the health risks and addiction it can bring. «There is a complete absence of awareness campaigns about the impact of drinking on health,» said Polyxeni Nikolopoulou-Stamati of Athens University’s medical school. She said it was strange that campaigns are launched to inform youngsters about the dangers of smoking but not about drinking «which usually accompanies the smoking.» It is down to the government, and to parents, to educate youngsters about the health risks posed by drinking, she said. One of the main problems, experts agree, is that alcohol is freely available to youngsters as liquor store owners and bar staff tend to serve them regardless of their age. «Laws that foresee the withdrawal of licenses and jail terms for offenders must be implemented,» opposition PASOK Deputy Athanassia Merentiti said in a recent debate in Parliament on the subject. Financial penalties are not a strong enough disincentive, she said.