By Richard Noone and Chelsea White
CHILDREN as young as 10 are seeking treatment for alcohol addiction, while five teens and young people die each week in incidents tied to binge drinking.
Recent studies have confirmed experts' fears that underage drinking is out of control.
One in five teenagers now regularly binge drinks by the time they turn 16, with the rate jumping to about 50 per cent by age 18.
A national survey of high school students has found parents have eclipsed friends and all other sources of supply for young people.
One in three children aged 12 to 17 now turn to mum or dad to provide the rocket fuel they want to ignite a party.
Currently a legal loophole means parents who provide their children with alcohol escape any conviction or heavy fine.
Ben, 15, had his first alcoholic drink when he was in year 7.
"My mate bought a massive sports bottle with a little bit of Coke and the rest was Jim Beam from his mum," he said yesterday.
Today Ben is often pressured by others to drink but is part of a Youth Off The Streets program that encourages him to stay away from bad influences.
Another program member Natalya - who started drinking at 13 - has ended up in hospital three times because of alcohol.
"You just drank until you got drunk really - you drink until you drop," the 15-year-old said.
Ted Noffs Foundation CEO Wesley Noffs said his organisation was being approached to provide residential rehabilitation to minors as young as 10 and 11, while Odyssey House boss James Pitts said alcohol was blamed for a 33-year high in admissions.
"When I first started working in this industry 25 years ago I saw case files on 16-year-olds and I was sceptical you could even have a problem at that age," Mr Noffs said. "But 10- and 11-year-olds can really have serious drug and alcohol problems, we now know it's not just rhetoric. We are really not taking this problem seriously."
A recent study done by Odyssey House, one of the country's biggest rehabilitation centres, found 90 per cent of residents named alcohol as their first drug of intoxication at age 12 or 13.
"These days young people are out there, they're not slinking around hiding. They are in your face, they're drinking in public places," Mr Pitts said.
He said the short-term risks were obvious with about 264 people aged 15 to 24 dying every year in falls, crashes, fights and other alcohol-related incidents.
"The research indicates that the earlier people start to drink the greater likelihood they will develop problems later in life," Mr Pitts said.
An Australian secondary school report last year found while the overall number of students drinking was slightly down on previous years, those who did drink hit it harder and earlier.
A study by the National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction found so-called "cool" parents, social networking, availability of supply and a shift in the traditional family structure fuelled a "hedonistic culture" of alcohol abuse.
Paul Dillon studied change in attitudes and abuse in recent years in his role as director of Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia.
"For years when I was asked how and when to introduce alcohol to children, my response was 'before someone else does and as early as you think appropriate," Mr Dillon said. "That message has changed dramatically."
Source: The Daily Telegraph, Australia (February 12, 2011)
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