Are drugs or alcohol worse for teenagers

01:00 Tue 03rd Jul 2001 |

asks Jayne b-t
Both are a big problem in this country. The European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD) reports that UK teenagers smoke more tobacco and take more drugs than those elsewhere in Europe. Only in Denmark do teenagers drink more alcohol than they do here.

Q. What sort of figures are we looking at
Of the UK teenagers questioned, 76% said they had been drunk, 20% said that they smoked every day, 35% said they had taken cannabis, eight per cent amphetamines, five per cent magic mushrooms, three per cent each for ecstasy, cocaine and heroin.

Q. Don't all teenagers get drunk at some point
Maybe occasionally, but now it's becoming fashionable to drink heavily, according to a recent survey by the Office for National Statistics Omnibus, which questioned 3,450 people between the ages of 16 and 25 about their drinking habits. About a quarter said that they drink more than eight units of alcohol (around four pints) at least one night a week. Women are less likely to drink as much as men: only eight per cent said they had drunk more than six units in one evening in the previous week. (The recommended limit is three to four units in a day for men and two to three for women: one unit equals a small glass of wine or half a pint of beer).

Q. I thought they were all taking ecstasy, anyway...
You would if you read the papers, but the ESPAD figures show that teenagers are not likely to be ecstasy users. And, although deaths from ecstasy are well publicised, they are relatively rare.

However, the long-term damage from taking ecstasy is being researched. A new study of people who took ecstasy at least ten times a month found that they had 'significantly impaired prospective memory'. That is, the part of the memory which is concerned with remembering things that are expected to happen in the future, such as appointments. Researchers don't yet know whether damage is being done to the specific area of the brain or to certain neurotransmitters which pass information around the brain.

Q. So, which is worse - drugs or alcohol
Compare the figures from the latest report from the National Programme on Substance Abuse Deaths: between January and June 2000, there were 675 drug-related deaths in England and Wales. That's a small number compared to the estimated 33,000 people in England and Wales who die each year from alcohol-related causes (including ill-health, alcohol poisoning, road accidents, violence and other accidents).

Dr Martin Plant of the Alcohol and Health Research Centre in Edinburgh has said that it is the legal drugs - cigarettes and alcohol - which lead to the most deaths and illnesses with young people in this country. 'If the Government wants to crack down on drug dealers, he said, 'it should be looking at the shopkeepers who are selling drink and cigarettes to children.'

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By Sheena MIller

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