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50% Teens at support service abusing alcohol
Irish Times Tues 29th May 2007
by Kerry Holland

Half of teenagers attending the biggest adolescent counselling service in Dublin are abusing alcohol, with the majority bingeing at the weekends to get drunk, according to the services annual report.

Bingeing is defined as drinking seven or more units of alcohol for a man or six or more units for a woman, in one sitting.

The report, by Teen Counselling says, almost 10 per cent of its young clients last year planned to commit suicide, and 14% were thinking about it.

Teen Counselling is a service offered by the Archdiocese of Dublins Social care section, Crosscare. It provides counselling to people aged between 12 and 18 and to their families where appropriate in five centres in Dublin.

Mary Forrest, director of counselling with the service, described as a matter of serious concern the fact that the number of teenagers referred for mental health issues increased by 25% last year compared to 2005. “Adolescence is a short life stage – six years. The window of opportunity is getting help to a teenager in crisis is very short. Services must be accessible,” she said.

Lord Mayor of Dublin Vincent Jackson, who unveiled the report yesterday, said teenagers “get left out, get caught between service provision, for children and adults and Teen Counselling is one of the very few filling the gap for these vulnerable young people”.

Overall referrals to Teen Counselling increased from 469 in 2005 to 489 in 2006. The majority, 67% were aged 12 – 16 years. Some 33% were aged 16 – 18 while 48% were male and 52% were female. The average waiting time for an appointment last year was 103 days – 27 days longer than in 2005. Of those referred, some 248 became clients.

More than 60 per cent were referred by family members, usually mothers, with behavioural problems at home cited as the most usual reason (38%)

Behavioural problems at school were cited as a reason for referral in 31% of cases; mood and anxiety in 29% of cases; family conflict in 25%; and parental separation in 10%. Among other reasons were alcohol abuse, self harm and learning difficulties.

When assessed, counsellors cited family conflict as the most pressing problem (21%), followed by disruptive behaviour (20%) and mood disorders (15%). Nine per cent of teenagers were referred for alcohol abuse.

“Fifty per cent of teenage clients were drinking, usually binge drinking, at the weekend and over half of these were under-16. This is an increase of 7 per cent on the 2005 figures (for under 16's who were drinking,” says the report.

Some 78% of the teenagers who had taken a drink reported having first been drunk sometime between the age of 13 and 15. Some had been drunk before leaving national school. Almost one-third had been drunk more than 20 times.

The report also expresses concern about access to “cheap cocaine”. For the 23% of teenagers who used drugs, hash continued to be the most commonly used. Some teenagers used more than one drug and there is a growing concern about the increasing availability of cheap cocaine at parties.”

The service noted addiction issues were prevalent among family members, with alcoholism an issue for 11 per cent of fathers and 8 per cent of mothers and drug addiction for 3 per cent of fathers and 2 per cent of mothers.