Wasted Youth: Germany Reports Surge in Teenage Binge Drinking

The number of German teenagers who drink to excess has risen sharply in recent years. At the same time smoking is in decline among young people, as well as cannabis consumption.

Every fourth teenager in Germany binge drinks.
DDP

Every fourth teenager in Germany binge drinks.

Binge drinking among teenagers -- long a problem in Britain -- is spreading in Germany: one in four German teenagers regularly drinks to excess and twice as many young people are admitted to hospital with alcohol poisoning than a few years ago.

According to a government report published Monday, 26 percent of youths, questioned last year, admitted drinking five or more alcoholic drinks in one session in the past month. Three years ago the figure lay at only 20 percent.

And these days binge drinkers are more likely to end up in hospital. While eight years ago 9,500 10- to 20-year-olds needed hospital treatment for alcohol poisoning, that figure had more than doubled to 19,500 two years ago.

Sabine Bätzing, the government's drug commissioner, who presented the drug and addiction report for 2007 in Berlin on Monday, said binge drinking was a problem found right across German society.

According to Bätzing, drinks companies bear some responsibility for the rise in problem consumption, as some advertising "aggressively" used young people's lifestyles and images to promote their products. Bätzing also called for a tightening of controls on alcohol sales, saying it remains far too easy for young people to buy alcohol. She added that the proposal to introduce teenage test purchasers -- who would be employed by the authorities to catch shopkeepers flouting the ban on selling alcohol to minors -- had not been entirely dismissed.

Big Drop in Smoking

Bätzing had better news to report on teenage smoking: the number of young smokers has fallen markedly in the last few years. While 28 percent of youths smoked in 2001, only 18 percent did so last year.

"This is a big success for the smoking policy in Germany," Bätzing told reporters. According to the drug commissioner, the fall was largely down to the smoking ban in public buildings and restaurants, bars and nightclubs. However, that can hardly be the case, as the figures relate to last summer, whereas the first smoking ban in Germany came into force in the states of Baden-Württemberg and Hesse last August.

As the number of young smokers has decreased, the consumption of cannabis among under 18-year-olds has also fallen: from 22 percent in 2004 to 13 percent last year. Yet, the number of people who smoke several joints a day has remained steady at around 600,000.

Across all age groups, the number of smokers has hardly changed: around one in three adults -- 16 million Germans -- smoke. According to the report, 1.3 million people are addicted to alcohol and 9.5 million drink too much.

There was also a marked increase in drug deaths, Bätzing reported. After falling to a historic low, 1,394 people died from the effects of taking illegal substances in 2007 -- around 100 more than in the previous year.

maw/dpa/ddp/ap

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