Adolescent and young adult alcohol use has long been a social problem. Young people who consume alcohol are more likely to have negative consequences from use, including accidents, injuries, exposure to violence, risky sexual activity, and experimentation with other substances. College and high school students are especially vulnerable to alcohol poisoning and overdosing, resulting in medical attention and even hospitalization.
Although the rates of alcohol consumption by American youth appear to be higher than for youth in other countries, new research suggests that Chinese youth may be closing that gap. In fact, since 2008, when all wine and beer taxes were abolished in Hong Kong in an effort to increase alcohol sales, rates of alcohol consumption have increased throughout the region. Marketing campaigns have presented alcohol use as glamorous and socially acceptable. Because of this, it is important to know how this new perception of alcohol has impacted adolescent and young adult consumption and more importantly, hospitalization for alcohol use.
Man Ping Wang of The University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health chose to examine the rates of medical treatment and hospitalization in a sample of 33,300 adolescents. Using an anonymous survey, the students reported any hospitalizations or medical consultations in the previous 14 days, any hospital stays for alcohol use in the previous year, and their history of alcohol, tobacco, and drug use, as well as any history of anxiety or depression.
Wang found that of all the students, more than 27% had consumed alcohol in the prior two weeks and almost 16% sought medical treatment as a result. More alarming was the finding that 5.1% had been admitted to a hospital for alcohol-related issues. These findings remained constant despite any existing mood issues.
The rates of alcohol use and alcohol-related hospitalizations in this study are similar to those found in other studies on American college students. Wang believes that the glamorization of alcohol use in Hong Kong is partly responsible for the high rates of alcohol use and problems in Chinese youth.
But the increased rates are alarming, as evidence suggests that early experience with heavy drinking can lead to alcohol dependency and addiction. Wang added, “More rigorous alcohol control policies and health promotion programs are needed to reduce alcohol drinking and related harms in adolescents.”
Wang, M.P., Ho, S.Y., Lam, T.H. (2013). Underage alcohol drinking and medical services use in Hong Kong: A cross-sectional study. BMJ Open 2013;3:e002740. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2013-002740
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