Covering the worlds of illegal drugs and alcohol, as Mentor does, I get to see the debates and interests across both policy areas; yesterday it was a conference on the alcohol strategy, the day before a drug policy conference.
One of the things that I find odd is how little interaction there seems to between the two sectors. Indeed at this week’s drug conference one of the contributors to the demand reduction workshop I was in wondered aloud why we spoke about alcohol in the same breath as illegal drugs like cannabis.
But the links between early use of alcohol and illegal drug use are clear. Meghan Rabbitt Morean, a postdoctoral fellow in the department of psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine puts it here:
There is also evidence that beginning to drink at an early age is associated with more immediate problems, such as compromised brain development and liver damage during adolescence, risky sexual behaviors, poor performance in school, and use of other substances like marijuana and cocaine.
The story the quote is from looks at research into both the short-term and longer term problems caused by early use of alcohol, and early drunkenness. It’s worth noting that 41% of 13-year-old school children in England have had their first drink, and that 10% have been drunk at least once in the last four weeks.
As the researchers say:
Most adolescents begin drinking during high school, a significant portion of whom begin drinking heavily. To help address this, we suggest that new alcohol prevention and intervention efforts targeting high school students be developed with the goal of delaying onset of heavy drinking among those at increased risk due to an early onset of drinking.
Also, the recent meta-review of universal school based alcohol prevention programmes found that those that can be considered viable policy and practice options don’t just address alcohol, they have effects across a range of substances. This is because they are looking at tackling the motivations, and risks that may lead to early first use and misuse of drugs including alcohol.