Addiction, Health, Behaviour Change | CGL

Young people and alcohol

Alcohol can play a big role in your life. As you get older and start to experience new environments and meet new people, alcohol can start to become a regular feature. However, alcohol could have a negative impact on your development and future. Alcohol can create physical and emotional health problems as well as increasing your chances of engaging in risk taking behaviours. Throughout this page we will explore some of these behaviours and how they can impact a young person.

The UK chief medical officer guidelines state that alcohol should not be consumed by anyone under the age of 15. If you are 15-17 alcohol should be consumed under the supervision of a responsible adult and in a safe environment. This age group should not be exceeding the low risk drinking guidelines (14 units per week).

Why alcohol?

Why would you want to drink alcohol? You may drink for the boost in confidence it gives, the reduction of inhibitions or the sense of “fun” that it can bring. Or you might want to be like those around you (family/friends) who use alcohol and your drinking habits are formed by these. It can also be because you are trying to mask physical or emotional pain, deal with anxiety/stress and low mood or with a traumatic experience.

Young people, alcohol and the law

The UK has laws around alcohol consumption for anyone under the age of 18. Alcohol cannot be bought by you or on your behalf under this age. You could get arrested if you’re drunk in public under the age of 18 also. To find out more about what the laws around alcohol mean for you click here.

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You may drink for the boost in confidence it gives.
Binge drinking

Binge drinking is defined as consuming more than eight units of alcohol (male) or six units of alcohol (female) in a single drinking session. This is the equivalent to roughly 3 pints of 4% beer or 3 large glasses of wine. Bingeing brings its own issues with an increased chance of alcohol poisoning. Alcohol poisoning occurs when there is too much alcohol in your system and your basic life-support functions begin to shut down.

To explore the risks of binge drinking click here.

To look further in to how many units you are consuming click here.

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Physical and emotional health

During your teenage years, the body and brain are still going through their development. Consuming alcohol during this stage can disrupt this development. You may not see the health issues of alcohol straight away yet continued or excessive use will increase the chances of those. These will include both physical and mental health problems. To find out more about how long term or excessive alcohol can affect you click here.

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Alcohol and sex

Drinking alcohol causes your inhibitions to be lowered. This means you are more likely to engage in behaviours you would not when sober. One in ten of boys and one in eight of girls aged 15-16 have engaged in unsafe sex whilst under the influence of alcohol. This can lead to an increased chance of getting an STI or an unwanted pregnancy. This can lead to feelings of regret the next day and cause low mood/anxiety.

Law in the UK states that anyone under the influence of drugs or alcohol cannot consent to sexual activity. One in five girls and one in ten boys aged 14-15 have gone further than they intended to with sexual activity whilst under the influence of alcohol. This can lead to being accused of, and in some cases charged with, sexual assault.

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Anti-social behaviour

As alcohol can alter your behaviour it might lead to careless actions and being in dangerous situations. This could include accidents, becoming aggressive or causing damage to property. As a result of these behaviours you could end up with a criminal record. Having a criminal record could have a damaging effect on your prospects. Everyone’s experiences of alcohol are individual and the behaviour of someone under the influence can differ. For some it may make them careless or aggressive, for others it may make them more confident and sociable.

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Regular or excessive alcohol use can have an impact on your education. Almost half of young people excluded from school in the UK regularly consume alcohol. Regular consumers of alcohol are also twice as likely to miss school the next day. As alcohol takes longer to leave your system, you can still be under the influence the following day. This will impact on your ability to concentrate, be motivated and learn during the school day. 

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Safer drinking tips

Listed below are some steps to take to ensure that you are safe whilst consuming alcohol:

  • Eat well before you drink. Having a hearty meal before you drink will line your stomach. This will help soak up some of the alcohol consumed. Choose something that takes longer for your body to digest such as pasta, bread or potatoes.
  • Drink plenty of water before, during and after your drinking session. Alcohol dehydrates the body! Consuming water frequently will help you keep hydrated and, most importantly, soften the hangover the next day!
  • Don’t mix your drinks. If you decide to drink beer stick to it! By mixing your drinks you are increasing the amount of toxins in your body. This will emphasise the effects of alcohol and how you feel the next day.
  • Pace yourself. Necking your drinks doesn’t make you a legend as it’ll mean you’ll be the first one to bed! Pacing also allows your body time to process the alcohol and allows you to stay up until the party is over.
  • Finally – take some time out from drinking. Having breaks between drinking sessions allows your body and mind to recover. This will reduce the chances of experiencing negative effects from alcohol.
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Stay safe whilst consuming alcohol.

Useful websites

  • Talk to Frank - Honest information around drugs and alcohol
  • Drinkaware - Comprehensive information around alcohol plus tools to help regulate your drinking.
  • NHS - information from the NHS around the misuse of alcohol

Useful apps

  • Drinkaware app - Track how much you’re drinking and spending on alcohol. Calculate your unit consumption and how many calories you’ve consumed.
  • Drinks Meter - Anonymous and personalised feedback based on your drinking pattern.
  • NHS apps - Drink Free Days is a simple and easy way to track the days you drink alcohol and the days you don't. Feel healthier, lose weight and save money – simply nominate days to take off drinking and get practical, daily support to help you stick to it.