Young people and alcohol
- Teenage bodies, minds and emotions are still developing and maturing and are very vulnerable to the immediate effects of alcohol. Teenage drinking carries risks and even a one-off experiment with alcohol can create problems.
- Teenagers need clear messages from parents that underage drinking is unacceptable. This reduces the risk of problem drinking in adult life.
- Parents should encourage and support teenagers to delay drinking in order to reduce the risks of harmful drinking in later life.
Teenagers who drink should:
- Drink slowly so their body has a chance to deal with the alcohol.
- Count how much they are drinking.
- Eat before drinking to avoid getting drunk.
- Use non-alcoholic mixers.
- Take a soft drink every second drink.
- Mind themselves and not drink alone.
- Mind their mates – not leave friends alone if they are drinking. If the friend is in trouble, they should call a responsible adult or an ambulance if needed.
Effects of alcohol on teenagers
Alcohol use can have serious effects on the physical and mental health of teenagers. These include:
Hangovers: Teenagers who are ‘hungover’ experience a type of alcohol poisoning. They become dehydrated as a result of which they feel sick, have headaches and become irritable.
Poor school performance: Heavy use of alcohol during teenage years can impair brain development and cause loss of memory and other skills. This impacts upon school performance, especially around exam time. Alcohol use can also hamper the development of decision-making, inter-personal and social skills.
Anti-social behaviour and mental health: Heavy drinking and binge drinking are linked to anti-social behaviour, mental health problems and permanent brain damage.
Drinking, smoking and taking drugs: Teenagers who drink and smoke are more likely to take drugs.
Premature death: The main causes of death among 16 to 25 year olds are accidents, suicide and violence. Alcohol is often implicated in many of these cases.
Unsafe sex: There is a link between drinking alcohol before sex and not using contraception. This can lead to crisis pregnancy and an increased risk of getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
Important Tips and Advice
Some signs that your teenager may be drinking:
- Smelling of alcohol
- Wanting to stay over in friends’ houses, especially after discos or parties
- using breath mints or brushing teeth more often
- Using too much perfume or aftershave
- Becoming unduly secretive
- Reduced co-ordination in speech and movement
- Inexplicable mood swings (excitable, giddy or moody)
- Varying sleep patterns/daytime fatigue
- General apathy
- Getting poor grades and skipping school
- Borrowing money, stealing and lying
What to do if you know or suspect your teenager is drinking
- Ask them not to drink
- Some of these signs are similar to normal behaviour changes that teenagers go through, so it is important not to jump to conclusions
- Suggest alternatives to your teenager, such as non-alcoholic beers, wines and cocktails
- Have control of what time they arrive at a party and what time they go home
- Most underage drinking is done before and after the disco
- If your teenager knows they will have to face you or another adult at the end of the night they may drink much less, if at all
Tell your teenager never to:
- leave a drink around where it could be spiked
- mix drugs and alcohol
- drink and drive
- take a lift with someone who has been drinking or taking drugs leave a party or club alone
Problems with Alcohol Consumption
Some people have a problem with drinking too much alcohol. Some signs that could suggest that someone may have a drinking problem are:
- They may be drunk when they are needed to do something important.
- They may take time off school or work because they have a hangover
- Their drinking may cause them to have accidents or arguments and they may do things they regret.
- They may get annoyed when people try to talk to them about their drinking.
If you recognise these signs in someone you know, you might try talking to them when they are calm or sober and tell them about your concerns. Try not to argue with them about it. If you are particularly worried about someone’s drinking; you could try talking to someone else who may have been through it and is now fully recovered. There are many people who can and want to help!
- Both men and women should drink no more than 14 units over the course of three days or more.
- 14 units is equivalent to a bottle and a half of wine or five pints of export-type lager (5% abv) over the course of a week.
- If you have one or two heavy drinking sessions, the risks of death from long-term illnesses and from accidents and injuries increases
- The risk of developing a range of illnesses (including, cancers of the mouth, throat and breast) increases with any amount you drink on a regular basis
‘Regularly’ means drinking this amount every day or most days of the week.
Simple tips to help you cut down
Make a plan: Before you start drinking, set a limit on how much you’re going to drink.
Set a budget: Only take a fixed amount of money to spend on alcohol.
Let people know: If you let your friends and family know you’re cutting down, you could get support from them.
Take it a day at a time: Cut back a little each da-then every day you do is a success.
Take smaller portions: You can still enjoy a drink but go for smaller sizes. Try bottled beer instead of pints, or a small glass of wine instead of a large one.
Have a lower-strength drink: Cut down on alcohol by swapping strong beers or wines for ones with a lower strength (ABV in %).
Stay hydrated: Drink a pint of water before you start drinking, and don’t use alcohol to quench your thirst. Have a soft drink instead.
Take a break: Have the odd day each week when you don’t have an alcoholic drink.
Keep a drinks diary: You may be surprised to find out how much you actually drink.