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Background

In the World Health Organization’s Global Survey on Alcohol and Health (2008), the five-year trend of under-age drinking showed that out of 73 responding countries, 71% indicated an increase in under-age drinking patterns. Local and regional trends reflect this reality. In Jamaica, alcohol continues to be the most commonly used drug among adolescents under 18 years. Hazardous and harmful drinking patterns, such as drinking to intoxication and binge drinking are also on the rise among this population, indicating a potentially serious public health problem. Furthermore, the age of initiation for alcohol consumption is a concern. Studies have shown that youth who start drinking before age 15 years are five times more likely to develop alcohol dependence or abuse later in life than those who begin drinking at or after age 21 years.

 As the agency charged with the responsibility for educating the general public about the dangers of drug use, conducting research on drug use trends and developing prevention and treatment programmes to address this; the National Council on Drug Abuse is launching an Underage Drinking Campaign in response to alarming trends that exist among Jamaican adolescents regarding the use and abuse of alcohol.

 

Drinking Levels among Jamaican Youth

Findings from the National School Survey (NCDA, 2006) conducted among 4536 students randomly selected from 70 schools across Jamaica revealed the following consumption patterns:

  • 70% reported drinking alcohol at some point in their lifetime; 47% drank alcohol in the past year and 33% drank in the past month.
  •  Among those who were current drinkers 35% were classified as binge drinkers and 10% as heavy binge drinkers**
  •  36% of respondents aged 14 and under; 55% aged 15-16 years and 53% of respondents 17 years and older reported using alcohol in the past year.
  •  The average age of first use of alcohol was 11.2 years for boys and 12 years for girls.
  •  Alcohol prevalence among males is higher than females for lifetime, past year and past month measure, but the gap is narrow.
  •  Consumption of alcohol in the past year was associated with behavioural problems.

*Binge drinking – consumption of 5 or more drinks in one sitting at least once in the previous 2 weeks

** Heavy binge drinking – 4 or more binge drinking episodes in the previous 2 weeks

Findings  from the Global School Health Survey (NCDA, 2010) conducted among 1623 students in grades 7-12 also revealed consumption patterns that warrant concern. The following alarming patterns were found among students age 13 – 15 years:

  • 52% drank at least one beverage containing alcohol in the past 30 days
  • Among students who ever had a drink of alcohol in their lifetime, 80% had their first drink (more than a few sips) before age 14 years
  • 35.3% of the students drank so much alcohol that they were really drunk at least one or more times in their life

 The Impact of Underage Drinking

One important reason for concern about adolescent alcohol use is its close association with the use of other drugs. There is considerable evidence that alcohol use tends to precede use of illicit drugs and use serves as a “gateway” to the use of illicit substances. Furthermore, adolescent alcohol use increases the risk of serious social, medical, and legal problems, interpersonal problems and physical and psychological impairment. Specific consequences that are more likely among underage adolescents who drink alcohol are as follows:

  • School problems, such as high absence rate and poor or failing grades
  • Social problems, such as fighting and other anti-social behaviours
  • Legal problems, such as arrest for driving or physically hurting someone while drunk
  • Physical problems, such as hangovers or illnesses
  • Unwanted, unplanned, and unprotected sexual activity which increase the likelihood of contracting Sexually Transmitted Infections including HIV/AIDS
  • Disruption of normal growth and sexual development
  • Physical and sexual assault
  • Higher risk for suicide and homicide
  • Alcohol-related car crashes and other unintentional injuries, such as burns, falls, and drowning
  • Memory problems
  • Abuse of other drugs
  • Changes in brain development that may have life-long effects
  • Death from alcohol poisoning

 Components of the Campaign

  •  Public Service Announcements on radio and television targeting the High School Championship and Carnival periods
  • Presentations in schools, community groups and other stakeholders
  • Monitoring the enforcement of sale of alcohol to minors by auditing of  popular events
  • In school “Are you at Risk” Public Education Drive
  • Community Distribution of  “Think Nobadda Drink” posters
  • Display and Exhibition Material support
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