She was commenting on research by UCD academics which showed that nearly one-in-10 fifth and sixth year students were drinking “dangerous” levels of alcohol and another quarter were engaged in “problem drinking”.
The study, reported in the Irish Examiner yesterday, found that one fifth of all secondary pupils suffered from moderate to very severe levels of depression and that excessive drinking increased the risk.
“We have a huge problem in this country, not just the amount that young people drink but the way they drink — binge drinking,” said Ms Fitzgerald.
She said there were “huge consequences” for both the young people and the health service.
“We have to absolutely take away the ambivalence about this and deal with it in a very serious way. A lot of work needed to be done to change the patterns but it is hugely significant issue.”
She said one third of cases involving children being taken into care related to alcohol and drugs.
The Government’s action plan on alcohol has still not gone before the Cabinet, despite statements since last October it was imminent.
Youth Work Ireland said it was “high time” the Government took action and urged it not to water down the recommendations of the national substance misuse strategy steering group.
Co-author of the UCD study, Barbara Dooley, said the findings on drinking levels were “alarming”.
She told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that young people engaging in serious levels of problem drinking were also experiencing “significant increases” in depression levels.
She said there needed to be “much stronger” action on alcohol availability and pricing as well as education and prevention.
Ms Dooley said the study showed young people who were able to talk to adults or friends tended to be “more adjusted” than those who don’t discuss their problems.
John Buckley, SpunOut.ie youth engagement officer, said there was a need to build up young people’s “coping and resilience skills”.
“We need to let young people know its OK not to feel OK and that in times of stress, in times of distress, that there are people there who will listen, that won’t judge and will guide them.”
- Alcohol Action Ireland: alcoholireland.ie and drinkhelp.ie
- SpunOut.ie (youth-led national charity)
-Headstrong.ie (young people’s mental health centre)
- Samaritans: 1850 60 90 90 or firstname.lastname@example.org
- Childline.ie or 1800 66 66 66
- Teenline.ie or 1800 833 634
- Pieta.ie (suicide and self harm crisis centre)