Three to four adolescents end up in hospital every day in Switzerland suffering from alcoholic poisoning or dependence on alcohol, a study has shown.
The report from the Swiss Institute for the Prevention of Alcohol and Drug Problems in Lausanne warns that this figure probably represents just the tip of the iceberg.
The study - released on Tuesday and covering the year 2003 - found that 1,300 adolescents and young adults between the ages of ten and 23 were treated in Swiss hospitals for alcohol abuse.
About 400 young people were treated for alcohol dependence, which was most prevalent in the 20-23 age category.
A statement said the fact that so many were already hooked at that age was "worrying" because experts had previously believed dependence began only after many years.
The consequences include loss of memory, headaches and nausea, accidents, injuries, violence, non-protected sex, aggressive social behaviour, problems with authority and poor school results.
The report also confirms that alcohol problems mainly concern men.
But its authors noted that the study does not paint the whole picture because it does not take into account those who suffer from some form of alcohol abuse and are dealt with by reception centres, family doctors or the police.
"We must therefore assume that these results represent the tip of the iceberg," commented Gerhard Gmel of the institute's research department.
He said hospital figures before 2003 were incomplete so caution was necessary before drawing conclusions about trends.
"But the number of cases of alcohol poisoning and dependence on alcohol seems to have increased slightly in recent years," Gmel said.
The institute's director Michel Graf warned that alcohol consumption should not be trivialised. Effective prevention was the duty of not only young people and parents but the whole of society.
"At the structural level restricting access and a heavy tax on cheap alcoholic drinks are important measures to avoid abuse by young people," he added.
"The drink consumed most by young men is beer, which is often less expensive than soft drinks. There, it's up to the politicians to take action."
Swiss teenagers, like their counterparts elsewhere in Europe are drinking more alcohol, and at a younger age.
A survey of 13-16 year-olds conducted for the Federal Health Office in 2003, found that 80% of 15 year-olds drank regularly.
More than half the 16 year-olds said they went binge drinking at least once a month. This occurred despite the fact that spirits cannot legally be sold to under-18s.
The study is based on hospital figures supplied by the Federal Statistics Office and is the first of its kind covering the consequences of alcohol abuse among adolescents and young people based on medical diagnosis.
Teenagers and young adults have been buying fewer alcopops since higher taxes on the designer drinks were introduced two years ago.
The tax increased the amount of import duty on each bottle by a factor of four.
Distributors confirmed the tax cut the sales of alcopops - a blend of spirits with soft drinks or fruit juices - dramatically.
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