Germans turn to graphic images to combat drinking

( dpa ) - Graphic scenes of young people in drunken incidents form the backbone of a campaign launched in Germany to raise awareness of the negative consequences of heavy drinking.

They include a young man covered in vomit after a night out, a club- goer who has soiled his trousers after excessive alcohol consumption and a teenage football fan beaten up in a drunken brawl.

The images decorate 1.5 million beermats and are also available for viewing as video spots on websites frequented by young people.

The campaign, bearing the slogan: Don't drink too much - Stay Gold, was initiated by police after statistics showed an alarming rise in binge drinking.

According to Sabine Baetzing, the government's Drugs Commissioner, nearly 20,000 young Germans are admitted to hospital every year suffering from the effects of alcohol poisoning.

How badly this can end is shown in one of the video spots where paramedics are unable to resuscitate a young man who has collapsed into unconsciousness after drinking too much.

The campaign is also meant to draw attention to the link between excessive alcohol consumption and violence.

Three out of 10 violent crimes solved in Germany are committed under the influence of alcohol, according to police. The percentage of young offenders involved rose from 38.5 per cent in 2006 to 39.3 per cent in 2007.

But it is not only drunken offenders who are being targeted by the campaign - it is the victims as well.

One beer mat photo shows a partially clothed young girl slouched on a park bench between empty bottles of sparkling wine. Is it only a hangover she has, or was she raped while in a drunken stupor?

"The trend towards excessive drinking by young people has continued unabated," says Baetzing. "One in five drinks five or more glasses of alcohol at least once a month. Violence often follows such drinking bouts."

A new survey of young people showed that 26 per cent of those questioned admitted to participating in binge drinking sessions in the past month, consuming copious amounts of beer, wine or spirits.

"I like a glass of wine myself on occasion," said conservative politician Joerg Schoenbohm, one of the backers of the campaign. "But the question is where do you draw the line."

The video clips and beermats attempt to show the two sides of the same coin.

The front of the beermats depict party scenes where young people are enjoying themselves, sipping just a small amount of alcohol. On flip sides there are repulsive scenes of where inebriation can end.

"Adults may find the message too strong," says Baetzing. "But the campaign is directed at young people, and tests have shown they are receptive to such drastic action."

British experts might beg to differ. A study released earlier this year said anti-drinking campaigns showing young people passing out in public or being helped home could be misconceived.

"Extreme inebriation is often seen as a source of personal esteem and social affirmation amongst young people," according to the survey by three universities in England.

To get to terms with the problem, Berlin's central Mitte district is planning to ban drinking in public at squares such as Alexanderplatz, a popular meeting point for young people.

Police prefer to concentrate on driving home the message that getting drunk is "uncool," and have persuaded leading sports personalities to act as ambassadors in the Stay Gold campaign.

Among them are the Beijing Olympics modern pentathlon champion Lena Schoeneborn, 22, and footballer Vedad Ibisevic, the Bundesliga's leading goalscorer this season.

"You've got your own personality and are strong enough," is their message. "You don't need to drink to make yourself be heard."

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