Cork Childline volunteer: ‘Teens as young as 14 suffering from alcoholism'

“We are experiencing a pandemic in underage drinking. Lots of teenagers experiment with alcohol but children who become dependent on it have normally been triggered in some way,”
Cork Childline volunteer: ‘Teens as young as 14 suffering from alcoholism'

She added that kids have become more vulnerable with the rise of social media.

KIDS as young as 14 suffering from alcoholism are reaching out to Childline in desperation as underage drinking takes a catastrophic toll.

A Cork volunteer of the charity said she has had teenagers between the ages of 14 and 17 contacting her with concerns about the devastating impact alcohol addiction is having on their everyday lives. Megan Sarl, who has been taking calls from vulnerable children for the last 10 years, said she is seeing a regular pattern with a number of children who have turned to alcohol due to stress or trauma. She acknowledged that while underage drinking is illegal, kids who find themselves in this situation need to be signposted to the relevant services for support.

“We have had regular callers who we notice have definitely formed a pattern over time when it comes to alcohol,” she said. “In one sense it’s great that children are reaching out for support, but it’s also quite frightening. They might be drinking with friends three times a week. The lack of support in their life means that they are placing this importance on alcohol that might not otherwise be there.” She stressed that addictions in children are normally triggered by an underlying issue.

“We are experiencing a pandemic in underage drinking. Lots of teenagers experiment with alcohol but children who become dependent on it have normally been triggered in some way,” Megan explained.

“It could be down too exam stress or trauma such as sexual abuse. Even if they are only drinking three times a week they find it difficult to get through the day without thinking about anything else besides alcohol.” 

The volunteer said that many children know how to access alcohol through fake identification or older siblings.

“The most common group who call us are girls of 16 or 17 years of age, many of whom might be after a breakup or suffering with exam stress. Drug addiction and alcoholism go hand in hand. At the moment alcohol is freely available to young people if they know where to get it. Alcohol is easy to come by and it is cheap. The fact that is only a couple of euro to buy makes it very accessible.” She added that kids have become more vulnerable with the rise of social media.

“That element of instant gratification is very significant in the world of teenagers,” she said. “There’s this attitude that everything will be fine in the morning when in actual fact they are open to so many risks. What they are doing when they are under the influence is getting lost in the moment. There are kids who have found themselves taking part in risky behaviour and finding their actions documented on social media through pictures. This kind of bullying can be very damaging for any child.” Megan underlined the signs to look out for with regard to alcohol misuse in children.

“It affects their sleep and their ability to concentrate in school. A small number even stop turning up to school. One of the main signs to look out for is a child becoming withdrawn.

"They might be drinking with friends three times a week. The lack of support in their life means that they are placing this importance on alcohol that might not otherwise be there.” 

She stressed that addictions in children are normally triggered by an underlying issue.

“We are experiencing a pandemic in underage drinking. Lots of teenagers experiment with alcohol but children who become dependent on it have normally been triggered in some way,” Megan explained. 

“It could be down too exam stress or trauma such as sexual abuse. Even if they are only drinking three times a week they find it difficult to get through the day without thinking about anything else besides alcohol.” 

The volunteer said that many children know or to access alcohol through fake identification or older siblings.

“The most common group who call us are girls of 16 or 17 years of age, many of whom might be after a breakup or suffering with exam stress. Drug addiction and [alcohol misuse] go hand in hand. At the moment alcohol is freely available to young people if they know where to get it. Alcohol is easy to come by and it is cheap. The fact that is only a couple of euro to buy makes it very accessible.” 

She added that kids have become more vulnerable with the rise of social media.

“That element of instant gratification is very significant in the world of teenagers,” she said. 

“There’s this attitude that everything will be fine in the morning when in actual fact they are open to so many risks. What they are doing when they under the influence is getting lost in the moment. There are kids who have found themselves taking part in risky behaviour and finding their actions documented on social media through pictures. This kind of bullying can be very damaging for any child.” 

Megan underlined the signs to look out for with regard to alcohol misuse in children.

“It affects their sleep and their ability to concentrate in school. A small number even stop turning up to school. One of the main signs to look out for is a child becoming withdrawn. The issue may eventually lead to them losing friends.” 

To find out more about help available to children suffering with drug and alcohol addiction visit www.childline.ie/drugs-alcohol-and-smoking/

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