MORE young people in the North East under the age of 18 need specialist alcohol treatment than in any other region in England, new figures have revealed.
Statistics released today by Balance, the North East alcohol office, has shown that twice as many young people in the region require treatment for alcohol than the national rate.
During 2010-11 more than 600 under 18s were in treatment in the North East, making up approximately 7% of the 9,450 people receiving alcohol treatment in the region.
In the North East the number of under 18s in treatment is currently 118 per 100,000 population. That compares to an England average of 59 per 100,000 population.
Health experts in the North East said the figures were “a major concern” and the NHS was working hard to “change attitudes and behaviour towards alcohol consumption”.
Prof Stephen Singleton, medical director at NHS North of England, said: “Doctors and nurses across the region’s NHS see the brutal effects of alcohol every single day and we continue to see more and more young people admitted to hospital with serious alcohol-related problems.
“Our major worry is that people still do not realise the long-term harm of alcohol abuse, which can be devastating.
“An alcohol-free childhood is by far the healthiest option and it is vitally important that parents and carers guide young people appropriately so that they understand the health risks of excessive alcohol consumption.”
The new figures released by Balance show that there is a North-South divide in the number of under 18s needing specialist alcohol treatment.
In the South West 43 per 100,000 per population need treatment and in the South East it is 45 per 100,000 per population. In the North West, it is 99 per 100,000 per population.
The findings are particularly concerning as recent statistics have shown that the North East has the highest rate in England of 11 to 15-years-olds who drink alcohol and has the highest rate of under 18s admitted to hospital because of alcohol abuse.
Balance is now re-launching a campaign urging more to be done to protect children and youngsters from exposure to alcohol.
Colin Shevills, director of Balance, said: “The fact that we have the highest rates in England shows we are getting our young people into treatment, which is a positive step. There are some fantastic support services in the North East and they continue to help and support hundreds of young people.
“However, we want to resolve these problems before they get to such an advanced stage and reduce the number of young lives that are affected by alcohol.
“Our region is drinking too much from an early age, driven by alcohol which is too affordable, too available and too heavily promoted.
“This makes our children vulnerable, increasing the likelihood of them becoming victims of crime, having unprotected sex, saying yes to drugs and damaging their education and potentially their future.”
At the heart of the Balance campaign is a petition calling on the Government to introduce more meaningful regulations to stop the alcohol industry reaching children and young people through advertising and marketing.
Melanie Souter, manager of Matrix young people’s service in the North East, said: “Although we acknowledge that the North East has problematic and excessive alcohol consumption, the worry is that the perception, particularly to young people, is that everyone drinks in the North East as a social and cultural norm.
“Alcohol advertising reinforces messages that it is either cool or it makes you more attractive or it’s something that everyone does to have a good time.
“This can make alcohol look appealing to young people, particularly adolescents where acceptance in peer groups and gained confidence is important to them.”
Earlier this year, the Government announced its Alcohol Strategy which is designed to encourage responsible drinking and help local areas tackle alcohol-related problems.
To sign Balance’s petition visit www.balancenortheast.co.uk.