In the past 30 days, nearly 44 per cent of class XII students (17-18 year olds) have consumed alcohol in the Capital. Even as the Maharashtra government ropes in actors Amitabh Bachchan and Aamir Khan to spread awareness about the problems of underage drinking, recent studies show that Delhi is plagued by the same devil.
According to a survey conducted by Community Against Drunken Driving (CADD), despite the legal age limit for alcohol consumption set at 25, the average drinking age in Delhi currently stands at 19 years, and is estimated to go as low as 15 years of age by 2015. In fact, on an average, most youngsters start drinking at the age of 15.
Alarmingly, nearly 33 per cent of those below 16 years easily procure alcohol from Government authorised liquor vendors, bars and pubs. HT City spoke to youngsters across the Capital and found that ID-checks are hardly ever conducted at pubs.
“One pub in CP asked for my ID once, but I am a regular at a pub in Vasant Vihar and have never been asked,” says Meghna Ahuja, 22. Aman Nagpal, a 17-year-old student, says he’s been served alcohol at a popular restaurant in Khan Market while Suresh Chauhan, a resident of Lajpat Nagar recalls, “I took my 16-year-old daughter out for lunch, and while I was on the phone, the waiter had served her wine!”
These aren’t just stray instances. The CADD survey shows that nearly 80 per cent occupancy in pubs and bars across the city comprises people below 25, of which 67 per cent are below 21!
The situation, say medical professionals, is getting worse. “There has been a 100 per cent increase in the number of underage drinkers during the last two years. The youngest patients that I’ve seen are 10 and 11-year-olds who are addicted to alcohol. The peak age is 14-17 years,” says Dr Deepak Raheja, psychiatrist, Hope Foundation. He adds, “Earlier they tried beers, now they’re trying single malts and showing off a taste for expensive alcohol.”
Annually, about 2,000 people under the age of 21 die in the Capital in incidents involving underage drinking. Dr Sanjeev Bagai, CEO Batra Hospitals, explains, “Young people are more prone to lack of concentration when drunk. By the time underage drinkers are in their 30s, there’s severe liver damage, shrinking brain cells and other problems.”