Monday, August 09, 2010

One fifth of British 15-year-olds are drinking astonishing amounts of alcohol in a year

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This frightening article highlights the dangers of drinking alcohol and the damage it can do to the liver, heart, brain, pancreas and other organs. Although this story doesn't mention alcohol's effects on the lungs, other researchers found that lowered glutathione levels due to alcohol can be as deadly to the lungs of alcohol abusers as alcohol itself can be to their livers and other organs. This story is about British teens, some as young as 11, but is probably true in North America and elsewhere.


As Britain's schoolchildren enjoy the freedom of the long summer break, an alarming new government report has revealed just how much alcohol they are drinking.

According to Department of Health statistics, one in five young people between 11 and 15 drinks more than 600 units a year.

This amounts to an astonishing mountain of alcohol. Britain’s binge-drinking epidemic sees 200 under-18s admitted to hospital every week with drink-related injuries.

But it’s the long-term damage these young people are doing to their bodies that concerns me.

As someone who helped to establish the first liver transplant programme in this country back in 1969, and oversaw George Best’s liver transplant in 2002, I am horrified by the latest figures.

It would be worrying enough if they related to older teenagers, but in fact none of the 7,700 school pupils interviewed for the NHS Information Centre’s report was over 15.

Many were as young as 11. The immediate ill-effects may be nothing worse than a hangover but - however much we like to pretend otherwise - alcohol is a poison.

Teenagers do not reach full physical maturity until they are in their 20s, so they are pouring toxins into bodies which are still at a crucial stage of development.

There is also evidence that drinking a lot in a short space of time is worse for your health than more frequent drinking of smaller amounts.

Since young people are more likely to binge-drink, they are placing themselves at even greater risk.

Here are some of the ways in which alcohol affects our children.


In my clinic, I see a disturbing number of young people with severe alcoholic hepatitis - an acute inflammation of the liver, which can lead to jaundice, coma and even death.
Long-term, excessive drinking can also cause cirrhosis, in which the normal liver tissue is destroyed and replaced by scar tissue.

The incidence of cirrhosis in this country has increased tenfold in recent decades, with some patients who have been drinking since their early teens facing terminal liver disease in their 20s.


Drinking affects the rate at which the heart beats and the high levels of alcohol in the blood associated with binge drinking can create an irregular rhythm which causes sudden cardiac arrest.

In later life, those who drink at an early age also face the danger of raised blood pressure and heart disease.


Apart from the impaired judgment which makes intoxicated youngsters more likely to have casual sex - with all its attendant consequences - getting drunk also causes long-term damage to the brain.

Just at the age when they should be at their sharpest, teenage drinkers may be impairing their reaction times, memory and attention span.

One study by the Institute of Child Health suggested that teenage drinkers are 30 per cent more likely to leave school with no qualifications.

They were also 40 per cent more likely to use illegal drugs and suffer mental health problems.


This organ is crucial to digestion. By their late 20s, those who drink heavily at an early age may develop painful pancreatitis, which can cause permanent loss of function. They also have an increased risk of diabetes.


Drinking to excess is associated with a higher incidence of common cancers of the mouth, oesophagus, stomach, breast, colon and pancreas.

Physical and emotional development

Excessive drinking during puberty may upset the critical hormonal balance necessary for normal development of organs, muscles, bones and the reproductive system.

Alcohol abuse also exacerbates conditions such as depression and stress, with suicide a major cause of death in 15- to 34-year-olds in the UK today.

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