For girls the irresistible pull of social networking, for boys the escapism of online gaming. Teenagers – particularly those that fail to find work after leaving school – are increasingly turning to online distractions rather than substance abuse, according to a government report published on Tuesday.
Particularly worrying is the trend toward “excessive or pathological computer game and internet use,” Drug Commissioner Mechthild Dyckmans, author of the “Drug and Addiction Report 2012.” told the Berliner Morgenpost newspaper on Wednesday.
The report also says more young people are gambling than ever before. In 2011, around 25 percent of 16 and 17-year-olds said they had played a commercial gambling game in the past 12 months, compared with just 15 percent in 2009.
Above all, young males out of work are most likely to become addicted to online games or public slot machines, said the paper.
The number of young males aged 18 to 20 who said they had used a slot machine at least once in the past 12 months has increased by 14 percent since 2007. Twice as many girls are now using slot machines as in 2007, with the figure now up to 5.5 percent.
The government is now looking at ways to better protect young gamers, including closer surveillance, tougher requirements and higher penalties, Dyckmans told the paper.
The good news is that 20 percent fewer people overall died of drug addiction last year, the lowest figure since 1988. While millions in Germany still have drug-related problems, young people are now indulging in a cigarette, drink or joint in fewer numbers.
The number of young smokers has reached an all time low, with under half the number of 12- to 17-year-olds lighting up last year compared to 2001.
Meanwhile more young people than ever before – 70.8 percent – said they had never smoked a cigarette, compared with just 40.5 percent in 2001.
“In many areas the measures taken to limit the consumption of addictive drugs have been effective, especially among children and young people – the group which is most vulnerable,” Dyckmans told the paper.
Overall, binge drinking among 12 to 17 year olds has also fallen from 22.6 to 15.2 percent over the past ten years.
But many young people are still prone to drinking themselves into a coma, with just under 26,000 drinkers aged 10-20 being admitted to hospital with alcohol poisoning in 2010.