1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Binge drinking

August 5, 2009

Excessive drinking is increasing among teens. Even a trip to the hospital with alcohol poisoning isn’t deterring some from drinking to excess, according to a study by major German health insurer.

Beer bottle with skull and crosses on the label
Alcohol is the drug of choice for many teens in Germany these daysImage: picture-alliance / dpa

Binge drinking among teenagers in Germany is soaring in Germany, according to experts. So-called "coma," "flatrate," and other kinds of drinking parties where the aim is to get extremely drunk are more popular than ever.

"Alcohol is the drug of today," said Karl Mann, the chair of addiction medicine at the Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim.

“Ten to 15 years ago, hard drugs were in. Six years ago ecstasy was all the rage, and today's drug is alcohol," he said. "People take drugs in order to feed their hunger for experience."

Binge drinking on the rise

The GEK health insurer commissioned the Hannover Institute for Social Medicine, Epidemiology and Health Research (ISEG) to investigate the drinking habits of 1,168 German teenagers between the ages of 14 and 20 who had been admitted to hospital at least once in the past three years.

The study found that being admitted to hospital with alcohol poisoning was actually an incentive for 17 percent of those questioned to drink even more. The remaining 83 percent did scale down their drinking habits after a hospital visit, but still continued to drink significantly more than the average teenager.

The GEK report found that binge drinkers drink twice as often as a control group of other teenagers, on average 10 times per month. On every third occasion, they drank until they were completely drunk, three times more often than the control group did.

The study also found that one in five binge drinkers started consuming alcohol before the age of 12.

The report said that that binge drinking increased more than five-fold among male teenagers between 1990 and 2008. Among females, the increase was slightly lower.

Driving factors?

A girl drinking beer at the Munich October festival
Authorities are debating strategies to curb binge drinkingImage: AP

Social and peer pressure play a major role in excessive drinking, according to Dr. Eva Bitzer, the author of the report.

“Being admitted to hospital barely deters binge drinkers,” she said.

The government has various programs in place to prevent excessive alcohol consumption. These range from awareness and community support programs through to closer cooperation with addiction clinics.

A trial program in the northern city of Hamburg has led to a five-percent reduction in drinking among 14 and 15-year olds.

The conservative CDU/CSU faction in the lower house of the German parliament released a study in April outlining alcohol consumption among Germans between the ages of 12 and 17. The study also showed a dramatic increase.

It found that 9,000 teenagers were admitted to the hospital with alcohol poisoning in 2000. In 2006, that number more than doubled to 19,500.

The CDU/CSU study also found that teenagers drink around 30 percent more than they did four years ago. Today, they consume an average of 50 grams of alcohol a week, which equals three glasses of wine or 1.25 liters of beer.

Prevention or prohibition?

The CDU/CSU has drawn up a list of proposals it would like see introduced to stamp out excessive drinking. These include shutting down kiosks that sell alcohol to underage people, random searches of backpacks and a ban on so-called alcopops, sweetened soft drinks with alcohol, which have proven popular with teenagers.

The GEK has said such measures tend not to be effective.

“We would rather focus on prevention rather than prohibition,” said GEK Director Dr. Rolf-Ulrich Schlenker, saying his group would prefer to see more information campaigns, the promotion of sports activities and a greater involvement of doctors.

Solutions should be developed locally, said the federal government's spokesman for drug addiction, Sabine Baetzing.

“We need to involve local councils, clubs, schools, the local community and the police,” she said.


Editor: Kyle James