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Alcohol and the Young. Report of a Joint Working Party of the Royal College of Physicians and the British Paediatric Association. (Pp 103; £7.50 (£11.00 overseas) paperback.) Royal College of Physicians/British Paediatric Association (now Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health), 1995. ISBN 1-86016-024-7 .
The abuse of alcohol by young people is an area of social behaviour that exemplifies the giving of mixed and confusing messages to young people by familial adults, professionals, policy makers, and the media. This short and well constructed report carefully details the many and significant adverse effects of inappropriate use of alcohol by young people and adults. It also graphically illustrates the lack of effective political will or professional drive to address its serious consequences. The report starts with a review of the adverse biological and sociological effects of parental alcohol abuse. This emphasises the importance of prevention of development of unhealthy life styles during adolescence that persist into adulthood.
The report details significant and robust data about the effects of fiscal, legal, and public policy in relation to alcohol use and abuse. In the light of this evidence it is clear that much could be achieved by changes in policy but governments have not applied this knowledge. A striking feature of the review, referred to in the final chapter, is the extraordinary lack of evaluated interventions of programmes of prevention or treatment. I am particularly disappointed that the authors feel justified in making the statement: ‘Educational approaches should, therefore, not form a lead approach on their own in combating alcohol misuse among young people. There is insufficient evidence to support it...’. While this is currently true there is some evidence that appropriate, though expensive, interventions which are based on social learning theory may influence teenage behaviour when delivered in an educational environment. It is primarily a lack of evaluated applications of interventions, particularly in the UK, that precludes their recommendation.
Reading this volume I can only conclude that lack of investment in evaluated programmes, together with unwillingness to enforce the law or to apply fiscal measures which would limit alcohol consumption indicate that there is not the political will to address this important health problem. The book will be useful, not only as a resource for interested professionals, but also for groups advocating direction of resources towards influencing teenage behaviour with potential for significant social and health benefit.
If Alcohol and the Young is successful in raising public, professional, and political awareness of the problems that alcohol presents to young people and the very limited responses that have been made it will have served society well.