Children admitted to hospital because of alcohol use in NSW

Nearly five young people are being admitted to hospital every day in NSW because of alcohol, exclusive data from NSW Health shows.

The figures show the huge toll alcohol is taking on children and young people in NSW, with a child aged between zero and four admitted to hospital almost every week because of injuries linked to their parents’ drinking. 

In total, nearly 1800 children aged between zero and 19 were so injured by their own drinking or that of others they were admitted to hospital in the 2012-13 financial year.

Experts say the government needs to urgently crack down on alcohol sales to children by introducing undercover stings, while parents need to heed the message that providing alcohol to their kids is dangerous.

The director of the McCusker Centre for Action on Alcohol and Youth, Mike Daube, said the hospital admissions were just the tip of the iceberg.

“This is only injuries so severe they need hospitalisation, and even then it is five a day in NSW alone,” he said. “This comes in a week when research has shown more than half of kids say it’s easy to buy alcohol.

“How many more wake-up calls do we need … state governments need to crack down on this issue.”

In the 2012-13 financial year, the last for which information is available, 1565 teenagers aged 15 to 19 year were admitted to hospital because of problems linked to alcohol. The overwhelming majority were male.

The injuries could involve problems directly caused by alcohol consumption, or injuries linked to alcohol, NSW Health said. Last month a 19-year-old student, Carl Salomon, died after falling from a crane into water in Balmain after a night out drinking.

And the harm doesn’t stop with teenagers. More than 50 children aged between zero and four and 70 aged five to nine were treated in hospital because of injuries linked to alcohol. Even more would have suffered from problems linked to foetal alcohol syndrome, which occurs in a baby whose mother drinks heavily while pregnant, that are not included in the data.

The chief executive of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education, Michael Thorn, said cheap, two-for-one and similar alcohol deals encouraged young people to binge drink. “Kids are very price-sensitive,” he said. “And they don’t take it home if they haven’t drunk it all”.

This week the foundation released a report into alcohol’s impact on children and families that found up to a quarter of people could be experiencing harm from the drinking of family members.

“Being raised in a harmful environment is very deleterious to a child, it affects their education, their development, their wellbeing, and it certainly increases their likelihood of health problems later,” he said.

Jo Mitchell, the director of the centre for population health in NSW Health, said dangerous drinking did not just occur among young people. “This is a serious public health issue across all age groups,” she said. “Often people think there’s a specific problem for young people … whereas the data shows that across the board there are high levels of risky drinking among adults as well.”

A new NSW Health data snapshot shows the rate of alcohol hospitalisations in NSW increased by 35 per cent from 1998-99, with nearly 52,000 hospital cases linked to alcohol in 2012-13.

But she said there had been some good successes in recent years in decreasing drinking rates. The department was also focused on delaying the age at which young people drank, and raising awareness among parents about the dangers of alcohol supply.

One such program, called “Stop the Supply“, has been run by the Northern Beaches Community Drug Action Team.

Team chairwoman Susan Watson said many parents were not aware of the dangers of youth drinking.

“We know that alcohol causes damage to [a growing] brain, and we didn’t know that years ago … so it’s really about starting conversations with parents about that,” she said. “It can be really difficult for parents to make these decisions when there is all this pressure out there, not just from themselves but from other parents.”

Source: 1st March 2015

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