ONE in three Scottish teenagers is binge drinking by the age of 13, according to shocking new research which lays bare the extent of the nation’s alcohol crisis.
More than a third of schoolpupils have admitted drinking to excess at least once by the time they have reached their early teenage years, consuming more than five drinks in a single session.
The findings come from a major European study which compares drinking habits among young Scottish teenagers with those of their counterparts in other countries.
Among six countries with comparable drinking cultures, Scots youngsters came out second in the scale of their alcohol consumption, revealing the scale of the challenge facing the SNP government as it attempts to change the nation’s harmful drinking patterns.
Experts define binge drinking as more than five alcoholic drinks on one occasion. The study found 35 per cent of young Scots have had at least one binge drinking session at the age of 13, compared with just 6 per cent of those in Iceland, the country with the lowest rates. In addition, 13 per cent of the Scots teenagers surveyed admitted they had taken part in between two and five binge-drinking sessions, and 8 per cent had drunk to excess more than five times.
The findings horrified anti-alcohol abuse campaigners, who last night called for tougher action from parents and the Scottish Government.
Dr Evelyn Gillan, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: “If we want to protect young people from alcohol harm then we need to consider more regulatory measures to reduce their exposure to alcohol marketing.”
Experts warn that binge drinking among children is linked with high rates of accidents and risky behaviours such as underage sex and drug-taking.
Other consequences include hospital trips, truanting, fighting and getting into trouble with the police.
Those who start drinking at a young age are also more likely to suffer from alcoholism and mental and physical health problems.
The study was undertaken by experts in Scotland, Poland, Germany, Italy, Iceland and the Netherlands and published last week in the scientific journal Pediatrics.
Almost 3,000 Scottish pupils were questioned.
The lead author, Dr Reiner Hanewinkel of the Institute for Therapy and Health Research in Keil, Germany, said: “The prevalence of binge drinking is relatively low in Iceland and high in Scotland, the Netherlands and Poland.
“The drinking cultures in countries like Scotland, Germany and Holland are the same, but in Iceland they are different because people have maybe one or two drinks with a meal – they don’t drink in binges.”
Both parental and government influence was crucial in changing behaviour, he added.
The Scottish Government is currently attempting to pass new laws on minimum pricing of alcohol in an attempt to drive prices above the level that young people can afford.
Jackson Carlaw, the health spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives, said: “No legislation or minimum pricing, or any other tax, can have an effect if young people who should not be legally drinking in the first place are being supplied with alcohol.
“So the challenge following the introduction of minimum pricing is for all parties to work together to change Scotland’s dependency culture on alcohol. We have barely scratched the surface.”