One teenager in seven has been in an emergency situation as a result of a friend drinking too much alcohol, according to a new study by the British Red Cross.
In the past 12 months, more than one in 10 children aged between 11 and 16 have been left to cope with a drunken friend who was sick, injured or unconscious. Half of those have had to deal with someone who had passed out and a quarter have dealt with a friend who had been injured in a drunken fight.
The survey, released to coincide with the launch of the Life. Live it. campaign to improve young people’s life-saving skills, reveals that it is not just alcohol-related injuries that young people have to cope with.
Almost nine out of 10 teenagers have had to deal with some kind of crisis. One in four had encountered someone having an asthma attack, one in three had dealt with a head injury, one in five had helped stop someone choking and one in 10 had tried to aid someone having an epileptic fit.
But, when asked what actions they had taken in response to those situations, 44% of teenagers said they had panicked and 46% admitted that they had not known what to do.
Dan Gordon, a 15-year-old from Liphook in Hampshire, was recently at a house party where, despite everyone being under 18, there was widespread heavy drinking. “One girl in particular was very drunk,” said Gordon. “We were all in the living room when she suddenly passed out, falling on to the sofa. Then, as she was lying down, she started throwing up.”
Gordon admitted that no one at the party had known what to do and people started to panic. “We realised we needed to stop her from choking, but without any first-aid knowledge, we didn’t know the best way how,” he said. “In the end, we decided to pick her up and hold her upright. After struggling for several minutes to hold her and wake her up, we managed to get her outside, where she regained a degree of consciousness.”
Gordon said that although he and his friends were aware of the severity of the situation, it did not occur to them to call an ambulance.
Almost 7,500 people aged under 15 were admitted to hospital with conditions specifically linked to alcohol between 2006 and 2009 in England. Many more injuries were dealt with by young people themselves: only one in 10 rang 999 when their friends needed help and fewer than half contacted their parents when faced with an injured, sick or unconscious friend.
A large number of young people who stepped in to help admitted being left distressed. They were, they said, unsure whether they had done the correct thing. Close to half were worried that their friends would choke on their own vomit or wouldn’t wake up, while more than 80% admitted they would feel safer if they had some first-aid knowledge.
One teenager in five has been drunk – on average three times in the past six months. As many as one in three 14- to 16-year-olds drink most weekends, with this group drinking on average 11 units – the equivalent of seven and a half alcopops or four large cans of beer or cider.
Joe Mulligan, a first-aid expert at the British Red Cross, said: “In recent years, the issue of young people drinking to excess has been a regular feature in the media, but their vital role in saving lives when they and their friends find themselves in vulnerable situations has not usually been mentioned. We need to ensure that every young person – irrespective of whether they’re drinking – has the ability and confidence to cope in a crisis.
“The people who most often benefit from others getting first-aid education are friends and family rather than strangers and we are always looking for new and innovative ways to reach young people,” he added. “In launching this campaign, our aim is to make first aid accessible to young people in their everyday lives.”