BEIRUT: In Lebanon, alcohol consumption by young people is on the rise, both in terms of frequency and quantity, and "is no longer occasional," an AUB study found.
Youth in Lebanon are starting to drink alcoholic beverages at a very young age and they are "boasting about the quality and quantity of alcohol they are consuming," according to number of studies compiled by AUB's Knowledge to (K2P) Policy at the Faculty of Health Sciences, and Alcohol Harm Reduction Group.
Studies evidence shows that the early initiation of alcohol drinking and the frequent and heavy consumption of alcohol among youth is on the rise. In 2011, one in four middle school students in Lebanon, (13–15 years-old), reported having at least one alcoholic drink in the past month.
Additionally, 87 percent of them (out of the one in four) reported having their first drink before age of 14. More evidence, from another study, showed that one in five students in middle school (7th-9th graders) reported having experienced at least one alcohol-related "harm in their lifetime, including being hungover, feeling sick, getting into trouble with family or friends, as a result of their drinking," AUB said in a release.
The school said that based on these findings, the K2P Center, alongside with Dr. Lilian Ghandour, lead researcher at the Alcohol Harm Reduction Group, opted to convene key decision-makers, partners and civil society last week, to participate in the K2P Policy Dialogue in order to inform the discussion about alcohol and youth in Lebanon and ultimately, protect young people from the harms of early alcohol drinking.
The K2P Policy Dialogue brought together different stakeholders and representatives such as: Director General of the Ministry of Tourism in Lebanon Nada Sardouk, Director General of the Ministry of Youth and Sports Zeid Kheyami represented by the Director of Youth Department Joseph Saadallah, the Director General of the Lebanese Traffic, Trucks and Vehicles Management Authority Hoda Salloum represented by the manager of Traffic Management Center Jean Dabaghi, chief of Traffic Division at the Ministry of Interior Colonel Jihad Al Asmar.
Also representatives from the Ministry of Economy and Trade, Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Social Affairs, the World Health Organization, local and regional NGOs, advocates and supporters, specialists in health law, researchers and students participated.
Prior to the dialogue, all participants received the K2P Policy Brief, a comprehensive 80 page document that brought together the best available global and local research evidence and serves at informing the deliberations about the best policy elements. K2P Director and dialogue facilitator, Professor Fadi El Jardali, elicited participants' input on the overall problem and its underlying factors.
Professor El Jardali then presented two evidence-based elements of a comprehensive approach to delay initiation of alcohol drinking among youth: Implement programs at the school, family and community levels, and alcohol harm reduction policies at the national level such as regulating the availability of alcohol, decreasing alcohol affordability, decreasing drink-driving and regulating alcohol advertising and marketing.
"In Lebanon, early initiation of alcohol drinking and the frequent and heavy consumption of alcohol among youth is on the rise putting them at increased risk of multiple health, social and economic losses and even mortality," said El Jardali. "These consequences are protracted to their adulthood, their families and community at large."
"It is a complex problem with complex solutions," he emphasized to Annahar.
Jardali termed the dialogue meeting a "great opportunity to leverage on solving the problem" given the number and variety of stakeholders present.
Annahar spoke with several university age students about their first drinking experience in secondary school or middle school, they ranged in result.
"I started drinking at the age of 15 when I was at a Christmas dinner with friends and family. I got really wasted and tired which led me to fall asleep before we even had dinner. After that night I promised I wouldn't drink again but a month later i found myself drunk on the beach," Maria told Annahar.
Tamara, a business student at LAU, told Annahar she grew up drinking beer with her parents but her first actual drinking experience would be when she was 14. "I was at a birthday party and there was vodka and I thought I would give it a try, and it turned out to be a good night where I felt myself get loose and dance with my friends."
Samer, a pre-med student, said the first time he drank was on a date with a girl he fancied. "I wanted to look cool and ordered a bottle of wine for the both of us and it turned out she was a wineholic and I wanted to impress her so I thought that with every glass she finished I had to finish mine. The night ended up with puke all over her shoes. That was our first and last date."
The percentage surge in drinking is a matter of concern among public health officials. In comparison, while most developed countries are witnessing a decrease in alcohol consumption among their youth, in Lebanon however, between 2005 and 2011, there has been a 40 percent increase in the number of 7th-9th graders having at least one drink in the past month.
In a related statistic, according to Youth Association for Social Awareness (YASA), whose aim is to raise awareness about road safety, more than 700 people die in car crashes every year in Lebanon. On average nearly 33 percent of these accidents are due to drunk driving.
Reported with Paula Nawfal.
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