Recently, sensationalist news in the media highlighted the event when a 17 year old girl was found drunk in public in Coimbatore. The papers had headings such as “Plus-2 girl gets drunk, creates ruckus”, “Drunk Teen Causes Flutter in Coimbatore”, “Coimbatore sees spike in underage drinking” etc. This incident was reported on July 92015 in most Tamil and English newspapers. There is also a video of the girl drink on YouTube. Thankfully the papers and videos do not reveal the identity of the young girl. I was intrigued by this issue and wanted to get an insight to see if there was really an increase in teenage drinking in India and consulted the ever available Google to look for information and here is a synopsis of what I found. Normally thought of as a Western phenomenon, teen drinking is slowly being noticed in India, including our humble Coimbatore.

There are various reports of increasing underage drinking in India. In one recent study, researchers questioned just under 2000 randomly selected 20-49 year old men from rural and urban areas in Northern Goa about the age at which they first started to drink alcohol, how much they drank, and whether they had sustained any injuries as a result of their drinking. Levels of psychological distress were also assessed using a validated questionnaire. The study found that the proportion of men who started drinking in their teens rose from 20 per cent for those born between 1956 and 1960 to 74 per cent for those born between 1981-85 – a more than threefold rise.

Consistent with studies from high-income countries, this study found that starting to drink alcohol during the teenage years was associated with a greater likelihood of developing lifetime alcohol dependence, hazardous or harmful drinking, alcohol related injuries, and psychological distress in adulthood. Teen drinkers were more than twice as likely to be distressed and alcohol dependent as those who did not start drinking early in life, researchers found. And they were three times as likely to have sustained injuries as a result of their drinking. The researchers also said that in India, alcohol consumption and its harmful effects are emerging as a major public health problem.

A survey conducted by NGO Campaign Against Drunken Driving (CADD) between December 2008 and January2009 in the Indian capital found that nearly 80 percent of pub goers were below the age of 25 and 67 percent of them below 21 years of age. Delhi’s Excise Law bans the sale of liquor to or by anyone below 21 years. If an underage person is caught consuming alcohol or if the vendor is caught, it could mean a fine of Rs.10, 000. However, the study found the laws rather ineffective, as nearly 33.9 percent of those below 16 years of age easily procure alcohol from government authorised liquor shops, bars and pubs. Indian law also prohibits any person below the age of 25 years to be employed at any bar or pub. The offence is punishable with a fine of up to Rs.50,000 or imprisonment of three months to be levied on the outlet. Still, nearly 55 percent of those working as service attendants in bars and restaurants are young boys and girls below the age of 25, said the survey. Another worrying fact that the survey found was that annually about 2000 youths under the age of 21 die from motor vehicle accidents, other unintentional injuries, homicides and suicides that involve underage drinking.

Assocham survey conducted under its Assocham Social Development Foundation (ASDF) has pointed out that alcohol intake in teenagers between ages of 15 and 19, especially in metropolitan cities has increased due to more absent parents, easy money and rising rates of stress and depression among teenagers. In this survey, 45 percent of 12th graders in metropolitan cities were found to be consuming alcohol excessively, at least five to six times in a month while 40 percent of girls reported having their first drink between the ages of 15 and 17. Fruit-flavoured alcoholic beverages are particularly appealing to girls who often do not like the taste of alcohol, the survey pointed out. Major cities in which respondents were interviewed by ASDF include Mumbai, Goa, Cochin, Chennai, Hyderabad, Indore, Patna, Pune, Delhi, Chandigarh and Dehradun. Delhi-NCR, Mumbai followed by Chandigarh and Hyderabad topped in consumption of liquor among teenagers.

More than 32 percent of teens, who admitted drinking said they drink when they are upset; 18 percent said they drink alone; 15 percent said they drink when they are bored; and 46 percent said they drink to ‘get high’. Interestingly, the survey also highlighted that each year, students spend Rs 3,500 to 4,500 on alcohol, more than they spend on soft drinks, tea, milk, juice, coffee, movie tickets or books combined. The survey also indicates that 70 percent of teens consume alcohol on the occasion of farewell, New Year, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, birthdays and some other occasion. The survey, in which more than 2,000 teenagers of age group of 15 to 19 took part, most said they initially took to drinking to be at par with their peer groups. Most teenagers view drinking as a fun pastime, the survey said.

We have looked at the magnitude of the problem in this blog. Why is this happening in India? What are the effects of alcohol consumption in teens? I will address these in the forthcoming blogs.

By Dr K Porpavai