Teenagers who drink alcohol are at higher risk of becoming victims of violence, a Cardiff University study has found.
A team from the School of Dentistry's Violence Research Group studied drinking habits in children aged 11-16 in England. They found not only a link between drink and aggression but also that children who drank were more likely to be hit, even if they weren't violent themselves.
The researchers are now calling for measures to prevent alcohol misuse to reduce injury risk. Current policy focuses on reducing aggression but this research shows that there should be equal effort to reduce victimisation.
More than 4,000 children were surveyed at 13 schools at four local authorities in the North, the Midlands, London and the South. The study found that 25% of 11-year-olds were drinking monthly and 3.6% daily, with 12.8% admitting to getting drunk three to five times a year. By the age of 16, 40% were drinking weekly and 6.2% were drinking every day. The research also showed 22.6% of 16-year-olds getting drunk more than 21 times a year.
The study, which has just been published in the Journal of Adolescence, found a strong link between frequency of drinking and frequency of hitting other people.
However, children who reported drinking monthly were also three times more likely to be hit. Adolescents who drank but didn't get into fights were more likely to be hit than those who did fight.
Professor Jonathan Shepherd, who led the research, said a lot of previous alcohol-related violence work had focussed on the offenders rather than the vulnerable. His team is calling for more prevention work by parents and teachers in the first two years of secondary school by capitalising on the "teachable moment" represented by period immediately after missing school of injury because of drunkenness.
Previous work by Professor Shepherd has shown drinkers may be more at risk of violence because of reduced physical co-ordination, poor decision-making in threatening situations and isolation while out late at night.
He said: "This new study seems to be the first to show a direct link between alcohol misuse and vulnerability to injury, independent of any link between drinking and fighting. There now needs to be much more effort put into reducing alcohol misuse in order to reduce injury."