YOUNG people in Derry are being encouraged to give up alcohol for Lent this week as a first step towards dealing with the longer term problems drink can cause them.
The six-week period of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday tomorrow and anyone considering giving up alcohol is being invited to take a short-term Pioneer pledge.
Although alcohol problems can affect anyone, young people are particularly vulnerable.
And Derry GP Dr Ann Doherty says she is seeing children at younger and younger ages, some as low as ten or 11, dealing with alcohol-related problems.
“There is a culture of drinking in this city and although the city council does try to deal with it, not enough is being done,” she said..
“Every social occasion like a christening or first communion is an excuse to drink and even sports events as people go to bars to watch them.
“Not enough is being done to provide a safe alternative to the young people of this city, somewhere where they can go and meet with their friends, listen to music.
“We still see blue bags in our parks and children are starting to drink at a younger and younger age.”
As well as the physical damage that alcohol can cause – and it has a much more serious effect on children than it does on adults – there are mental health issues as well.
“People forget that alcohol is a depressant,” says Dr Doherty.
“There is evidence to show links between alcohol use and depression and suicide.
“I think that adults have to be more responsible in relation to alcohol.
“Parents have to know where their children are at all times and people should never ever provide alcohol for children.
“The harm alcohol does to teenagers is proportionately greater, but everyone should be aware of the dangers.”
Alcohol is a popular choice for people looking to give up something for Lent, but not necessarily something that teenagers would consider.
Andrew Doherty of the Pioneers says anyone interested in giving up alcohol this year is welcome to contact the Parish Pioneer Centre.
“As Lent start this week with Ash Wednesday it is the time of year when some people will be thinking of giving something up as an act of self-denial.
“Anyone going off alcohol is invited to take a short-term Pioneer pledge from Ash Wednesday until Easter Sunday April 24.”
Father Michael Canny says that Easter is the most important week in the church calendar, and the six-week build-up of Lent demonstrates this.
“Traditionally people will look to give up things like alcohol or a type of food, but in the modern world it can be television or use of the internet.
“It is a period of self-denial.
“I would like to encourage people that if they do forsake drinking beer that they should then take the money that they would have spent and donate it to charity.
“I would like to concur with the English bishops who have called on people, if they feel they are not able to commit to the full six weeks of Lent, then to make Fridays a special day and to forego something then.”