Many adults drink alcohol, but it’s important to understand the health impacts of drinking too much and too often. Alcohol will also affect you differently when you’re younger. People who are smaller or weigh less are often affected more quickly by alcohol. You may also be unprepared for some of the effects that alcohol has.
It can make you lose control of your body and impair your judgement. When you’re drinking, things that you would never do sober can seem like a good idea. You may also experience memory loss if you drink a lot.
Alcohol affects people’s moods in different ways. Some people will find that drinking makes them feel happy, while others will feel sad or depressed. It can also enhance the mood you are in when you start drinking. That means it can make you happier if you are happy or bring you lower if you are already sad. Drinking can make some people become violent.
As well as the short-term effects, alcohol can have a long-term impact on your health. Drinking too much alcohol too often it can cause heart disease, cancer, liver disease, strokes and other health problems.
Drinking regularly when you’re young can be very bad for your health because your body is still developing. Alcohol can affect how your brain develops. It can make you more likely to forget things and make it difficult to concentrate. It can affect your ability to learn and therefore how you do at school.
Problems like weight gain or loss, headaches, bad skin and disturbed sleep are also more common in underage drinkers than adults.
You might not see the signs of serious health problems, like liver damage, for a few years. People in their 20s have died because they drank too much alcohol when they were younger.
There are also more immediate risks when drinking alcohol. When you’re drunk, your judgement and coordination can be affected. This makes it more likely that you’ll have an accident and hurt yourself.
You can also make bad decisions and take bigger risks when you’ve been drinking – such as having unprotected sex. Unprotected sex can lead to pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Alcohol poisoning is another serious risk if you drink a lot in a short space of time. This can make you vomit or might mean you pass out. In serious cases you will need to go to hospital. In very extreme situations, people have passed out and choked on their own vomit. You can die from alcohol poisoning.
You should never feel pressured into drinking alcohol. Even if all of your friends are drinking, it’s ok to say no. Not drinking alcohol doesn’t mean you can’t have fun.
When is it legal to drink alcohol?
You have to be 18 or older to buy alcohol in the UK. It is also illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to ask an adult to buy alcohol for them. From the age of 16 you are allowed to drink wine, beer or cider with a meal at a restaurant as long as you are with an adult.
If you are aged between five and 17 it is legal to drink alcohol at home. That means your parents are allowed to give you a small amount of wine or beer. It is illegal to give anyone under the age of five any alcohol.
What is a unit of alcohol?
You will often hear alcohol measured in units. This is a way of understanding how strong a drink is and how it might affect you. It takes an adult around one hour to break down one unit of alcohol. A standard pint of beer has 2.4 units in it.
Remember that different beers, wines and spirits have different strengths. That means a small glass of wine can have from 1.4 units up to 1.8 units depending on how much alcohol it contains. The UK Chief Medical Officer (CMO) recommends that adults drink no more than 14 units of alcohol per week. The CMO also recommends an alcohol-free childhood.
What is binge drinking?
Binge drinking is when you drink a lot of alcohol in one go. It can make you get drunk more quickly. It can also mean you are more likely to be sick, pass out or have an accident and hurt yourself.
People binge drink for lots of reasons. Some do it to forget about problems or worries they have. Others do it to relax and have fun on a night out. Some people do it to fit in with their friends. If you often binge drink it can have an effect on your health. It is also known to lead to anti-social behaviour and aggression.
When does drinking become a problem?
Alcohol is becoming a problem if you find yourself thinking about drinking alcohol often or worrying about when you can next have a drink. You might also notice that you find it hard to stop drinking once you have started. You could forget how much you’ve drunk or often forget things you’ve said and done when you’ve been drinking.
If you think you are drinking too much you should get some help. A counsellor or your doctor will be able to suggest ways to cut down on the amount of alcohol you’re drinking. You could also try starting a new hobby or activity to keep your mind off drinking. Think about when you drink and try to avoid places or situations where you would normally have alcohol.
Your friends may also be able to help you. Talk to them if you’re worried and ask them to help you set limits with your drinking – and stick to them.
What should I do if I’m worried about a friend drinking too much?
If you are concerned your friend is drinking too much start by talking to them. They might not realise how much they have been drinking. If their drinking has been triggered by a problem they are trying to avoid, having someone to talk to can help. Support them and encourage them to talk to an adult about their drinking.
If you are with someone who is very drunk, you need to tell an adult you trust. They will be able to help keep them safe. Make sure you stay with your friend when they are drunk. Don’t let them wander off on their own. Try to get them to drink some water and don’t let them have any more alcohol.
What should I do if I think my parents drink too much alcohol?
If your mum or dad often drinks a lot of alcohol and it changes the way they behave, they may have a drinking problem. This is also known as alcoholism. It can make people lose control and that means they might behave badly towards you.
There is lots of support available for them and for you. You could try talking to your parent first. They might not realise how their drinking is affecting you. If you need more help talk to an adult you trust. This could be a teacher, your doctor, or a friend’s parent. They might be able to talk to your mum or dad to help them get the support they need.
Talking about this kind of problem can seem scary. You shouldn’t worry though. It won’t get you or your mum or dad into trouble. It will allow them to get the help they need to deal with their alcohol problem, which will make things better for you and for them.
All my friends drink, but I’m scared to. What should I do?
You should never feel pressured into drinking alcohol or doing anything else. If your friends are drinking it’s perfectly fine to say you don’t want to.
Peer pressure can make you feel as though you should do something but always remember that you have a choice. Be confident in your decision as that will help people respect your choice. If you don’t want to drink you could try suggesting something else to do that doesn’t involve alcohol.
Did you know?
-65,000 young people need treatment in hospital A&E departments every year because of alcohol
-In 2014, 38% of 11-15 year olds had tried alcohol at least once
-Alcohol is measured in units. On average it takes an adult one hour to breakdown one unit of alcohol
The Drinkaware Trust is an independent UK-wide alcohol education charity, funded largely by voluntary and unrestricted donations from UK alcohol producers, retailers and supermarkets. The Trust is governed independently and works in partnership with others to help reduce alcohol-related harm by helping people make better choices about their drinking.
Addaction helps people change their behaviour to become the very best that they can be. It could be their drug or alcohol use or worries about their mental health – we support people to making lasting change in their lives
Life’s tough, we know that. It can throw a lot your way and make it hard to know what the hell to do with it all. So, welcome to The Mix. Whether you’re 13, 25, or any age in between, we’re here to take on the embarrassing problems, weird questions, and please-don’t-make-me-say-it-out-loud thoughts you have. We give you the information and support you need to deal with it all. Because you can. Because you’re awesome.
Alateen is for teenage relatives and friends of alcoholics. Alateen is part of Al-Anon. We believe alcoholism is a family disease that affects everyone in the family. Alateen meetings are attended by 12-17 year olds. They meet to share their experiences of having, or having had, a problem drinker in their lives. They help and support each other.
Please be aware that this is NOT for emergency help. CLICK HERE for information on emergency help.