Alcohol advice for people under 21

Drinking can play a big part in your social life when you're in your teens and early 20s.

Make sure you know the risks and find out how to stay safe. Then you can make choices that are right for you when it comes to alcohol.

Is drinking dangerous?

Drinking alcohol is so common in our society that it can feel like it's totally normal and not a big deal. But it's a lot more complicated than that. Alcohol has some negative effects, especially if you're drinking a lot or if you start drinking when you're under 18. The downsides you should know about are:

  • Drinking too much can make you ill. If you drink too much, it can make you sick, and we’re not just talking about a hangover the next day. If you drink a lot, you might get alcohol poisoning, which can be dangerous and in some cases, fatal. It takes less drink than you might think to get alcohol poisoning: 12 units according to the NHS. That’s the same as four pints of beer or four glasses of wine. 
  • Drinking gives you bad judgement. When you drink you’re less inhibited so your judgement isn’t as good as normal, and if you drink a lot, it can make you wobbly and sleepy. Both these things can make it more likely that you’ll have an accident. Or you might do something you regret later - like having sex that you wouldn't have sober.
  • It’s bad for your health in the long-term. Drinking in your teenage years is bad for your health in the long-term. You won’t see the effects right away, but it can be bad for your sleep, memory, attention span and reaction times.
  • It’s illegal if you’re under 18. You can’t drink or buy alcohol until you’re 18. If you get caught by the police with alcohol in a public place, they’ll confiscate it and you could be fined or arrested.

How to stay safer

If you decide that you want to drink, here are some tips to help you stay safer:

  • Eat before you drink. Having a proper meal before you drink will line your stomach and help ‘soak up’ some alcohol. Pasta, bread and potatoes are good choices.
  • Drink lots of water. Alcohol makes you dehydrated, which is part of the reason you get a hangover. So drink water or soft drinks before, during and after you drink alcohol. Every time you buy a drink, grab some water for everyone too - your friends will thank you the next day.
  • Don’t mix your drinks. Pick a drink and stick to it. If you mix you’ll feel worse the next day.
  • Pace yourself. Downing your drinks doesn’t make you a hero - you'll probably just be the first one heading home. Drinking slowly means you’ll be more able to handle your drink, as your body has more of a chance to process the alcohol. So think about sitting out the pre-drinks if you’re going out, or buying your own drinks instead of doing rounds.
  • Don’t take your card. If you have good intentions but end up drinking too much, try leaving your card at home. Just take enough money for a few drinks and a bus/taxi home.
  • Take dry days. Having a few days where you don’t drink any alcohol gives your body and mind time to recover.
  • Drink with people you trust. Only drink when you’re with people you trust who’ll take care of you. Tell them if you’re not feeling well. Don’t drink on your own.

Worried about your drinking?

If you’re worried about how much you’re drinking or feel like you can’t stop, there’s help available.

Use our service finder to see places that can help near you. They won’t judge you or tell you what to do - just give you the support you need. 

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