Author: Cassandra Wagenaar
According to research carried out in 2010, adolescent alcohol use in the Netherlands is ranked to be one of the highest in Europe – in fact, it was uncovered that by the age of 14, 39% of Dutch adolescents had consumed an alcoholic beverage (Jansen et al., 2016 125). In contrast, the European regional average of alcohol consumed by the age of 13 is 25% and 31% for girls and boys respectively (WHO 2018).
Adolescent Drinking in The Netherlands
The great magnitude of adolescents drinking at a young age is concerning. Not only does alcohol consumption at a young age impair brain development, it may also increase the risk of alcohol abuse and addiction later in life (NIAAA 2015). Adolescent drinking is especially problematic in the Netherlands, as parents have often adopted a very liberal approach to their children drinking. They may offer them a drink at the dinner table or even tolerate their children getting together with friends, and providing them with the alcohol (Dutch News 2016).
Up until 2014, the Dutch law was similarly lenient concerning adolescent drinking, with the minimum legal drinking age being set at 16 (Dutch News NL 2012). This meant that from the age of 16 onwards, it was legal to
purchase beer or wine. For those above the age of 18 it was also legal to purchase liquor.
However, this changed in January of 2014 when the minimum legal drinking age was raised to 18 (STAP 2016). The change in the law was also accompanied by an increasing desire for policy makers and educators to engage more in educating adolescents on the negative consequences of drinking and disincentivizing them from partaking. This is largely due to the increase in scientific research that has uncovered in the 21st century on the damaging effects of alcohol consumption (De
Looze et. al. 2017, 98).
The Gezonde School Program
Various channels have been utilized by the Dutch government to curb underage drinking in The Netherlands. One of the ways the Municipality of The Hague has attempted to raise awareness among adolescents
on alcohol consumption is through the “Gezonde school” program – or “Healthy school”. This is part of a nation-wide initiative that promotes healthy living education in schools. In 2019, the initiative had already existed for 30 years, but it is only in recent times that the program has gone beyond just providing textbook material. Now it also focuses on training prevention workers and teachers (Trimbos Instituut 2019).
A school is able to become a “healthy” certified school if they adopt a healthy living education framework which includes education on health, the provision of a physically and socially conducive environment, physical education policies for social and emotional development. Additionally, the school must have all measures for the health of pupils and teachers laid down in school policy (Gezonde School 2019). The school can implement these measures and get the necessary resources through guidance from a prevention worker at the municipal health services. The Hague area currently has 89 certified “healthy” schools out of the 1547 nationwide certified institutions (Gezonde School 2019).
Providing Guidance: “Helder op School”
One of the focuses under the program is ‘Helder op School” – or “more clear-headed at school.” This focuses on the prevention and control of smoking, alcohol, drugs and gaming. Helder op School provides guidance and training on lesson plans and other class materials that can aid in supporting the educational framework of schools. Other than offering guidance on lesson material, to become a healthy certified school, the school is also required to ban alcohol, smoking and gaming on school
property. Furthermore, employees, parents and visitors are also advised not to drink or smoke on school property in order to set a good example (Trimbos Instituut 2019).
Dutch News (2012). “Increase in legal drinking age set to rise to 18.” DutchNews.nl. At https://www.dutchnews.nl/news/2012/07/increase_in_legal_drinking_age/.
WHO (2018). “Adolescents drink less, although levels of alcohol consumption are still dangerously high.” World Health Organization. At https://www.euro.who.int/en/media-centre/sections/press-releases/2018/adolescents-drink-less,-although-levels-of-alcohol-consumption-are-still-dangerously-high.
de Looze, M. E., van Dorsselaer, S. A. F. M., Monshouwer, K., & Vollebergh, W. A. M. (2017). “Trends in adolescent alcohol use in the Netherlands, 1992-2015: Differences across sociodemographic groups and links with strict parental rule-setting.” The International Journal on Drug Policy 50: 90–101.
Dutch News (2016). “Teenage drinking continues despite crackdown, new survey shows.” DutchNews.nl. At https://www.dutchnews.nl/news/2016/09/teenagedrinking-continues-despite-crack-down-new-survey-shows/.
Gezonde School (2019). “Overzicht Gezonde Scholen.” Mijn Gezonde School. At https://mijngezondeschool.nl/zoektool.
Jansen, S. C., Haveman-Nies, A., Bos-Oude Groeniger, I., Izeboud, C., de Rover, C., & van’t Veer, P. (2016). “Effectiveness of a Dutch community-based alcohol intervention: Changes in alcohol use of adolescents after 1 and 5 years.” Drug and Alcohol Dependence 159: 125–132.
NIH (2015). “Underage Drinking-Why Do Adolescents Drink, What Are the Risks, and How Can Underage Drinking Be Prevented?” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. At https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/AA67/AA67.htm.
STAP (2016). “Dutch alcohol policy.” STAP Dutch Institute for Alcohol Policy. At https://www.stap.nl/en/home/dutch-alcohol-policy.html.
Trimbos Instituut (2019). “Helder op school voor het MBO.” Trimbos Instituut. At https://www.trimbos.nl/aanbod/helder-op-school/middelbaar-