More and more French teens turning to drink

French teenagers are acquainting themselves with alcohol earlier and earlier in their lives and getting drunk in worryingly high numbers, according to a study published on Tuesday, the latest to suggest that France has a growing alcohol problem.

More and more French teens turning to drink
Is this an increasingly common sight in homes across France? A May 7th study found 59 percent of 11 to 12 year olds have consumed alcohol at least once. Photo: Stop Alcohol Deaths, Inc.

The French are often credited with having a more mature relationship with alcohol compared  to Anglo Saxon countries, a view often explained by the theory that young people in France are acquainted with alcohol from a much younger age.

However it appears many young people may have taken things too far.

A new report by the 'Bulletin épidémiologique hebdomaire' (Weekly Epidemiological Bulletin, or BEH) found that fully 59 percent of 11 to 12-year-olds in France have consumed alcohol.

Furthermore, one in six 11 to 14-year-olds had been drunk at least once, a figure that rises to 60 percent for 15 to 17-year-olds.

“Alcohol is the psychoactive substance that teens experiment with the earliest,” the study’s authors were quoted as saying by TF1 television.

There appears to be a particularly sharp rise in drinking between the ages of 13 and 16.

At the start of that period, 39 percent of pupils claim they consumed at least one unit of alcohol in the previous month. By age 16, it doubles to 79 percent.

During adolescence, the study suggests that young women do quite a bit better with alcohol than their male counterparts. According to the BEH, the percentage of girls “who drink regularly” is half that of boys.

However, as French daily Le Parisien points out, a 2010 study found that between the ages of 18 and 25, the drinking habits of men and women in France are increasingly similar.

The study – by France’s Observatory on Drugs and Addiction and the National Institute for Health Education and Prevention – found that “repeated drunkenness” among young women had doubled in just the five years up to 2010.

Tuesday’s report is the latest in a string of recent scientific studies suggesting that France has a real and growing drinking problem among its young people.

In March, The Local reported a staggering 80 percent rise in short-stay hospital visits in the last year, mainly for alcohol-related accidents and falls, and especially among young men and women.

“We’re seeing more and more young people in the emergency room, seriously drunk, who stay for a day or two to sober up,” said Dr. Damien Labarrière, a gastroenterologist in the city of Orléans, south of Paris.

Regarding the general population, a study just two weeks earlier made the worrying discovery that alcohol is responsible for around 49,000 deaths in France each year – or 134 each day.

Catherine Hill, one of the authors of the report by the European Journal of Public Health, summed up the findings simply by saying: "The French drink too much".

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French national park bans alcohol over the summer months

A French national park has banned alcohol over the summer months after a spate of accidents.

French national park bans alcohol over the summer months
The gorges of the Ardèche are known as the 'French grand canyon' Photo: AFP

The gorges of the Ardèche region – a national park in southern France very popular with hikers, campers and canoeists – has banned alcohol from the campsites and the river until September 30th.

“Hikers and boaters are prohibited from keeping alcoholic beverages for consumption in the bivouacs of Gaud and Gournier [the only areas where camping in the gorges is permitted] and on the river domain,” said the order issued by the Préfect of the Ardèche.

The area is very popular for canoeing. Photo: AFP

The temporary order began on May 1st and runs until September 30th.

The ban is intended to “put an end to the many accidents caused by drunkenness”, the préfecture told FranceInfo, which also specifies that regular checks will be carried out and that non-compliance with this order will be subject to sanctions.

Over previous summer seasons fighting, dangerous behaviour and drunken accidents have become a problem for police and park warders in the area.