Binge drinking into the New Year | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 01.01.2014
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Binge drinking into the New Year

It's not just at New Year's that many young people drink themselves silly - plenty lose control at other times of the year, too. Pediatricians say it's a dangerous trend and have called for an alcohol advertising ban.

A couple of beers pregame, followed by a vodka-Red-Bull to stay awake, then of course at midnight a glass of the bubbly, later comes the really hard stuff: New Year's Eve can be a regular drinking marathon.

"On days like this, alcohol is even easier to get a hold of for young people," said Ulrich Fegeler of the association of German pediatricians. Bottles of liquor are either supplied by older people, or they simply find them standing around at parties. The problem is, warns Fegeler, that young people aren't able to control the use - or abuse - of alcohol.

This is partly why cases of alcohol poisoning are - after fire-related injuries and other accidents - the most common causes of hospital admissions on the night of December 31.

Beer bottles

Boys are more likely to binge-drink than girls

But when it comes to the dangers of binge drinking, it's not just about this one night; according to Germany's national statistics, in 2013 there were 27,000 cases of overconsumption that required medical treatment.

This comes down to two trends: While the consumption of alcohol during the week has gone down due to growing public awareness of the health risks involved, this has led directly to an increase in overconsumption on the weekends. Around 40 percent of adolescents in Germany get drunk at least once a month.

Ever more girls drinking

Boys are particularly endangered by unrestrained drinking - around twice as many boys are involved in binge drinking as girls. "Young men see it as part of their self-image to be able to withstand a lot of alcohol," said Michaela Göcke of Germany'sFederal Center for Health Education (BZgA).

Girls aren't exposed to the same peer pressure as boys, but they often catch up with them anyway, particularly through hard liquor in combination with juice or soda. According to a study by state health insurers AOK, the number of girls admitted to hospital with alcohol poisoning has risen by 1.3 percent since 2010.

The health consequences of drinking go beyond a hangover and a headache. "Young people's organs are not as well-developed as those of adults," said Göcke - so the body cannot break down the alcohol as effectively. "And brain development, which is only complete at 20, is also affected."

That means that young people who drink regularly can suffer long-term brain damage. Fegeler adds that there is also the danger of addiction.

Campaign against drinking

Empty champagne bottles

Pediatricians say young people are particularly vulnerable to alcohol

For several years now, the BZgA has been running a public awareness campaign to promote moderate alcohol consumption. Individual German states have also tried to make it more difficult for young people to get their hands on alcohol.

The southern state of Baden-Württemberg, for instance, has tried to limit nightly consumption since 2010 by preventing stores from selling alcohol between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.

In Frankfurt, authorities are planning a new scheme for spring. Young people will be sent into stores as test buyers. Any retailers who break the law by selling alcohol to minors can expect to be fined - hard liquor like schnapps and vodka can only be sold to people from the age of 18, while you have to be at least 16 to get beer and wine.

For Fegeler, these measures don't go far enough. He wants to see the state intervene further by banning all alcohol advertising. "Addictive substances shouldn't be advertised anymore," he said. "And bottles containing alcohol, like cigarette packs, should include a warning: Drinking alcohol can be deadly."

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