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"Dramatic" rise in young binge drinkers

Too many small glasses have caused big problems in Switzerland Keystone

Alcohol abuse by Swiss youngsters is on the rise, with increasing numbers of ten- to 23-year-olds ending up in hospital.

This content was published on February 28, 2008 - 18:07

An average of five young people are admitted to hospital each day, warned the Swiss Institute for the Prevention of Drug and Alcohol Problems on Thursday.

Figures released by the Federal Health Office indicate that between 2004 and 2005 roughly 1,800 young people between the ages of ten and 23 were treated for either alcohol poisoning or alcohol dependence.

"The results of the study are extremely worrying," said institute director Michel Graf, adding that the numbers represented a "dramatic" rise over previous years.

Spokeswoman Monique Helfer told swissinfo that the latest data built on previous studies conducted by authorities. She said that apart from being concerned simply with rising numbers, her organisation was troubled by the relatively new trend of binge drinking.

The institute noted a conspicuous gender gap in the drinking patterns among young Swiss.

Roughly 850 males were treated for alcohol poisoning in both 2004 and 2005 compared with only around 460 females.

However, experts said alcohol poisoning – which had climbed 40 per cent over the previous two years – represented only part of the phenomenon.

An additional 500 youngsters – both male and female – were treated for alcohol dependence during the same period. Experts pointed out that young binge drinkers often become old alcoholics.

Tip of the iceberg

The institute added that these figures were only the tip of the iceberg and that hospital statistics were hardly representative of the overall scope of the epidemic.

Helfer told swissinfo that while drinking may indeed be on the rise, the numbers could also reflect the fact that more people are visiting hospitals for treatment.

Not included in the government's figures were those escorted home by police, those who were treated by private doctors or emergency services on the scene, or the many who managed to stumble home unassisted.

For some, the most serious consequences of binge drinking are the common symptoms of a bad hangover. But apart from memory loss, headache or dry mouth, experts warn that other consequences could be much more serious.

They include serious injury, aggressiveness and bad relationships. Death is also a possibility, either as a result of an accident or through depression-related suicide.

Call for action

In any case the institute called on the government to take action. It said the latest figures were an indicator that child protection laws ought to be further strengthened.

"On a structural level, pricing and the availability of alcohol are important in preventing abuse," Graf said.

The government has proposed a series of measures including increasing the minimum age for purchasing alcohol, restricting access and raising taxes as part of a plan to combat the problem.

The institute said it supports accompanying laws with efforts to sensitise and educate youth.

swissinfo, Justin Häne

Youth drinking

The Swiss government has proposed measures as part of a national action plan to combat teen drinking. They include increasing the drinking age, making alcohol more difficult to purchase and applying higher taxes.

Unlike in many parts of North America, drinking alcohol in public in Switzerland is permitted. In the evenings, especially on weekends, major railway stations are often seen teeming with young people, drink in hand.

Switzerland is not the only European country combating the problem of binge drinking. The head of a British police association recently made remarks about his country's "binge drinking culture".

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