April, 2016

We need to protect young people from drink culture

A CHILD’S birthday party that spiralled out of control due to the actions of a number of drunk teenagers made for quite a cautionary tale in a recent edition of the Dublin People.

We should be striving to give children every opportunity we can, including the opportunity to have fun and enjoy their formative years. However, we also have a duty of care to ensure that children have the opportunity to fulfill their potential, and to be healthy, happy, and safe.

The cautionary tale reflects the current situation, where we have allowed alcohol to take such a prominent place in growing up in Ireland that we are doing children a great disservice, while making the task of parents a much more difficult one when it comes to trying to ensure that their child does not become a victim of alcohol harm, through their own drinking or someone else’s.

One of the striking things about the report from the birthday party was that while the adults involved were left reeling – and with a downstairs to redecorate – the kids themselves felt it had been “a brilliant party”.

This was despite a number of them becoming sick from drinking, despite the marquee being taken down “to prevent it from being torn apart” and despite the fact that it eventually took the arrival of the Gardaí to call a halt to proceedings.

There is nothing to be gained by pointing the finger at young people, who are, in many ways, a product of their environment. We have created an environment for them that is saturated with alcohol – one in which harmful drinking patterns have been normalised and, more often than not, are celebrated by the adults around them.

Children and young people are also heavily exposed to, and influenced by, alcohol marketing, which is a constant presence in their lives, encouraging them to drink alcohol through a wide variety of positive, risk-free messages, and reassuring them that alcohol is central to belonging, enjoying life, popularity, sporting prowess, and a seemingly endless list of desirable traits.

Is it any wonder the children felt that the birthday party had been a great success?

For many, like those children who arrived to this party with spirits concealed in soft drinks bottles, drinking is simply an exercise in drinking to get drunk, one which is facilitated by the explosion in the number of outlets selling alcohol at pocket-money prices in the off-trade in recent years, particularly supermarkets, where cans of strong beer can cost less than bottles of water.

Parents should certainly talk to their children about the risks of alcohol consumption, particularly drinking at a young age, but we also must recognise that parents are fighting against a strong tide, in the form of Ireland’s harmful drinking culture, in their efforts to protect the health and wellbeing of their children.

The reality is that, while homes can be redecorated, far too many parents in Ireland have found themselves in the position where their child has suffered harm due to alcohol or is never coming home due to an alcohol-related tragedy.

The World Health Organisation has made it clear for many years that the overwhelming evidence shows that tackling alcohol pricing, marketing, and availability are the most effective solutions for reducing alcohol harm in a country.

It is these solutions, contained in Ireland’s Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, that will help support children and their parents in their efforts to make low-risk choices around alcohol consumption and ensure that we can make a positive, lasting change to our harmful drinking culture.

To express your support for the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill or find out more about this legislation please visit alcoholireland.ie/campaigns/bill/

This comment piece was published in the Dublin People.