The Irish Minister for Health, Roisin Shortall, has joined the debate about the availability of alcohol for young people. Shortall says that parents who allow their teenage children to drink alcohol at home could be contributing to substance abuse among young people.
This comes after a Department of Health survey on adult drinking in Northern Ireland was published. Shortall acknowledged that while parents supervising the amount their children are drinking may be seen as a way to foster responsible drinking, she suggested they could actually be doing more harm than good.
Minister Shortall said alcohol was doing more damage to young people than illegal drugs, reports the BBC.
Dr. Paul Darragh, chair of the British Medical Association in Northern Ireland, said the issue of whether to allow young people to drink was a “complicated” one.
Dr. Darragh has worked with young people under the influence of alcohol at the Mid-Ulster and Antrim Area Hospitals.
“Parents have a responsibility to engender a healthy attitude on the use of alcohol,” he said.
“The British Medical Association policy is not to call for a complete abstention.
“We’re not killjoys, we’re asking for the responsible use of alcohol and part of that is that parents engender a sensible response to alcohol.
“Part of that would be not only knowing where their children are at times so they aren’t out drinking irresponsibly but also showing by good example the use of alcohol and that includes in the home.”
He believes that teen drinking is a “serious” issue:
“It can lead to all sorts of problems, not just the direct physical effect, there’s the psychiatric problems that can arise from it, anti-social problems, young girls can end up leaving themselves vulnerable to underage sex, venereal disease, unwanted pregnancy.
“The amount of complications that can arise from this behaviour is much more than just getting drunk and having a hangover in the morning.”
Andrew Percy, a lecturer at Queens University Belfast, said:
“There is an issue around how much teenagers are drinking now and they are drinking a lot more alcohol than my generation were drinking.”
Percy sympathizes with the Shortall’s position, saying that she was “almost in a Catch-22 situation” of trying to get across a very simple message to parents around issues which are “very complicated”.
“It depends on the relationship the parents have with the children and the age of the child,” he said.