Monday, January 21, 2008

France fears binge drinking bug has arrived

French doctors have raised fears about the growing problem of alcohol abuse among children, amid claims that the culture of binge drinking is making in-roads from across the Channel.

For generations, France has been held up as an example of "responsible" drinking, where children are gradually introduced to the pleasures of alcohol via a glass of watered-down wine at the family table, and learn how to consume in moderation.

But a series of alcohol-related incidents involving teenagers has raised concerns among doctors and led to national media speculation on whether binge drinking is fast becoming a problem.

"For adolescents it is all about getting smashed. Obviously, we are still far behind Britain, but it is spreading fast and among all sectors of society," said Dr Philippe Batel, an alcohol specialist at Beaujon hospital in Paris.

"Nowadays it is girls, too, who are getting involved. And, contrary to received wisdom, it is children from decently-off families who are most affected by binge drinking."

One of the latest incidents involved two 16-year-old girls who, 10 days ago, were found comatose in their school lavatories at nine o'clock in the morning in the northern town of Abbéville.

They had skipped breakfast to celebrate a birthday with friends at an Irish bar next to the lycée, ordering four cherry-flavoured vodkas, then finishing off a bottle of vodka.

Three days later, an ambulance was called to help two other pupils in a state of inebriation at the same school.

France still lags far behind Britain and other north European countries in the "drink to get drunk" culture.

An independent study of youth drug use found that only three per cent of French 16-year-olds claimed to have been drunk at least three times in the previous month, compared with 23 per cent in Britain.

But some academics blame changes in attitudes to parenting in modern France.

Frédérique Gardien, an educationalist and author of Teenage Alcoholism - Time To Face The Facts, said French teenagers were "no more vulnerable today than they used to be to the dangers of alcoholism".

"What's different is that society has changed," he said. "Parents today are surrounded by all this psychoanalysis. When they want to say no to their child, it all has to be explained and negotiated.

"The child is suddenly expected to be able to understand what is good for him or herself. No one is setting down the limits which they need for a sense of security.

"So they test their own limits by seeing what happens when they do the deed."

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