FRIDAY, APRIL 20: The average age at which youngsters start drinking in Bermuda is 12, a survey has revealed.
A total of 1,747 youngsters in a survey of 3,182 school students admitted they had drunk alcohol.
The earliest age reported for taking a drink was just nine years old.
And a fifth (20.1 per cent) of S4 students, aged around 18, admitted binge drinking at least once in the two weeks prior to the survey being carried out.
A report on the survey said: “Alcohol, including beer, wine and hard liquor, is the drug most often used by adolescents today.
“Research and similar surveys in the past have shown the pervasiveness of alcohol in middle and high school.
“In comparison, the use of cigarettes, inhalants or marijuana are less than half as prevalent as alcohol use.
“Given the national pattern, it is not surprising that alcohol is the most used drug among the surveyed age cohort in Bermuda.
“Furthermore, the high prevalence of alcohol consumption among adolescents raises the issue of binge drinking, which can be extremely dangerous and is the pattern of alcohol use that is of greatest concern among researchers.
“Several studies have shown that alcohol use by youths and young adults increases the risk of both fatal and non-fatal injuries and that binge drinking is related to higher probabilities of drinking and driving as well as injury due to intoxication.”
The survey, however, also showed that episodes of binge drinking have plummeted by nearly half (47.5 per cent) since a similar survey five years ago — a trend in line with Caribbean countries.
Research has also shown that youngsters who start drinking before the age of 15 are five times more likely to abuse alcohol by the age of 21.
Suicide and murder
And alcohol use also leads to an increase in risky sexual behaviour, poor school performance and increased risk of both suicide and murder.
The report said: “As with alcohol use in general, binge drinking tends to become more pervasive as students grow older.”
The survey — which quizzed school pupils aged from 10 to18 — showed that lifetime use of alcohol ranged from a low of 24.5 per cent for the youngest students to almost 80 per cent for the oldest.
And almost a fifth of those surveyed said they had used alcohol in the month preceding the survey.Drink leads to sex
Use of alcohol is linked to sexual activity among teens and a higher risk of catching sexually-transmitted diseases like HIV.
A report on alcohol and drug use by pupils aged around 10-18 said that of nearly 1750 students who admitted drinking, nearly half (46.3 per cent) also said they had had sex.
In contrast, among pupils who said they have never touched alcohol, more than 87 per cent said they had never had sexual intercourse either.
The study said: “A strong positive relationship exists between lifetime consumption of alcohol and students engaging in sexual behaviours indicating that, as students consumed more alcohol, they tended to be more engaged in sexual activities.”
It added: “Research has shown that alcohol consumption is associated with adolescents engaging in high-risk sexual behaviours, including unprotected sexual intercourse and multiple sex partners.
“Further, public health research has focused on identifying individual and situational factors associated with sexual risk-taking behaviours that expose individuals to HIV.
“One of these factors is the use of alcohol and other drugs in conjunction with sex.
“Alcohol use and sexual activity often are initiated during the teenage years when alcohol interferes with judgement and decision-making and lowers one’s inhibitions.
“It can then be concluded that its use, in association with sexual activity, might increase the likelihood of unprotected intercourse.”
Handguns in school
Youngsters have admitted taking handguns to school, the survey reveals.
A major poll of more than 3,180 students found that more than one per cent — around 32 students — said they had carried a gun to school in the past year.
Pupils in S2, those aged around 14-15, were the most likely to be offenders.
A further 2.9 per cent admitted having been in possession of a gun at some point outside school.
Figures for handling guns ranged from 1.5 per cent of those in M2 – aged around 10-11 — to 4.6 per cent of S2 students.
A total of 12 per cent said they thought it would be easy to obtain a gun if they wanted one.
The survey also revealed that children younger than ten have joined gangs, with 2.1 per cent saying they had joined a gang aged ten or younger.
A total of eight per cent of those surveyed admitted involvement with gangs.
The report on lifestyles among school pupils, carried out by Government, said: “As with drug use, students’ perceptions of the laws regarding illegal use of firearms may be related to violence.
“That is, when students perceive laws to be strict and consistently enforced, they may be less likely to carry guns and to engage in gun violence.”
The report added: “Gangs have long been associated with crime, violence and other anti-social behaviours.
“Evidence suggests that gangs can contribute to anti-social behaviour beyond simple association with delinquent peers.”
How you can help
Schoolchildren with unstable home lives and who live in neighbourhoods with poor community values are more likely to end up abusing alcohol and drugs.
Risk factors include a low attachment to the community and living in run-down areas with high levels of crime and drug use.
The report said: “In those communities where there is acceptance or tolerance of drug use, students are more likely to engage in alcohol, tobacco and other drug use... High rates of drug usage, delinquency and violence occur in communities or neighbourhoods where people feel little attachment to the community.
“... This situation is not specific to low-income neighbourhoods — it can also be found in affluent neighbourhoods. Perhaps the most significant issue affecting community attachment is whether residents feel they can make a difference in each others lives. If the key players in a neighbourhood — such as merchants, teachers, clergy, police and human and social services personnel — live outside the neighbourhood, residents’ sense of commitment will be lower.”
Children who move home or school frequently are also more at risk of developing substance abuse problems.
Effective prevention programmes could steer youngsters away from drug and alcohol abuse. The report states: “The most effective prevention programmes are those which are delivered interactively and teach skills to help young people refuse drug offers, resist pro-drug influences, correct misperceptions that drug use is normal and enhance social and personal skills.”
Most school-based anti-drug programmes had never been evaluated for their effectiveness; the report recommends research to test if they worked as planned. The report added that teaching good social skills gave youngsters the confidence to resist the lure of substance abuse.