Alcohol is widely used by young people. Binge drinking, drink driving, and unsafe sex can all result from engaging in risky drinking.
In Australia, alcohol is the most used drug, and contributes to all the leading causes of death for young people. Alcohol use also has a variety of serious health risks.
It’s difficult to prevent teenagers from experimenting with alcohol, but parents and carers can encourage sensible drinking habits.
The safest level of alcohol drinking for children and young people is not drinking.
Be aware of the laws about serving alcohol to minors in your state or territory, including in your own home, as these have changed in some states.
Call DrugInfo on 1300 85 85 84, contact your local legal aid service or visit the Youth Law Australia website to find out the situation in your area.
Teen alcohol usage statistics
The 2019 National Drug Strategy Household Survey found 66% of 14–17-year olds have never had a full serve of alcohol.
It also found 2.8% of 14–17-year olds drink weekly (while for the 18–24 age group, the figure is 27.9%).
How parents can encourage responsible drinking
Studies have shown that the most influential role models for children are their parents and carers. Children learn by imitation, so it is important to demonstrate sensible drinking behaviour such as:
- Drink moderately or not at all.
- Don’t drink every time you socialise.
- Never drink and drive.
Teaching responsible drinking
As parents and carers, you can’t prevent young people from experimenting with alcohol, but you can encourage sensible drinking habits.
- Be a good role model.
- Teach your child about alcohol from an early age.
- Help them to understand that stress can be dealt with in a healthy way that doesn’t involve alcohol.
- Explain the downside of heavy and binge drinking (such as vomiting, head spins, passing out and hangovers).
- Educate your teenager on the links between drinking and risky behaviour – such as the increased risk of accidents and injury, and how alcohol impacts the ability to make decisions.
- Teach your teenager sensible tactics such as – how to say no, sticking to the standard drink recommendations, pacing themselves, alternating alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic drinks and not drinking on an empty stomach.
- Talk about the dangers of drink-driving – plan some alternatives (such as catching public transport, designated drivers or calling home).
- Encourage your teenager to talk with their friends about the dangers of alcohol, so they can come up with ways to look out for each other.
Preventing young people from risky drinking
According to research, there are many important factors to help reduce the likelihood of a young person engaging in risky drinking.
As well as being a good role model, suggested ways parents and carers can help their child include:
- Try to have a good relationship – encourage open communication.
- Help them to feel a sense of belonging with family, school or through activities and hobbies (such as a sporting club).
- Reinforce positive achievements and experiences at school.
- Encourage them to have a supportive relationship with a trusted adult outside the family (such as an older relative or friend, teacher or school welfare officer).
- Encourage them to look for opportunities to contribute to their community.
- Help them feel respected and cared for.
Alcohol and its health risks for young people
Young people are at greater risk of alcohol-related harm than adults. As the brain keeps developing into the mid-twenties, drinking alcohol as a teenager can greatly increase the risk of damage to the developing brain. It can also lead to problems with alcohol later in life.
Drinking heavily over a short period of time with the intention of becoming drunk is known as binge drinking. (Binge drinking is also defined as drinking over the recommended level of standard drinks.)
In the 2017 report on Australian Secondary School Students’ Use of Tobacco, Alcohol, Over-the-Counter rugs, and illicit substances, around 5% of Australian secondary school students drank more than 4 drinks on one day in the previous 7 days.
Common effects of binge drinking include:
- nausea and vomiting
As well as increasing the risk of short and longer-term health problems, binge drinking can lead to young people taking risks and putting themselves in dangerous situations – such as drink driving, swimming, and unsafe sex.
Drink driving and other risky behaviours increase the risk of alcohol-related harm (such as injury or death).
Car accidents and drink driving are a leading cause of death for young adults.
In 2018, 14% of drivers who lost their lives on Victorian roads were aged between 18-25, and 75% were involved in crashes that occurred at high alcohol times (times of the day or week where fatal crashes are 10 times more likely to involve alcohol).
Alcohol and unsafe sex
Alcohol impairs judgement. If someone is so affected by alcohol or other drugs that they cannot freely provide consent – this is considered a sexual offence.
Young people are more likely to engage in unsafe sexual practices (such as having sexual intercourse without a condom) when they have been drinking.
Risks associated with unsafe sex include:
Alcohol can impair brain development
Drinking alcohol can affect how the brain develops in those under 25. Young people under 15 years are particularly at risk. Teenage brains are still developing, and the areas of the brain that undergo the most dramatic changes during the teenage years are the frontal lobe and hippocampus. These areas are associated with motivation, impulse control and addiction.
Alcohol is a neurotoxin, which means it can damage the brain. One of the effects of excessive alcohol use is that it interferes with vitamin B absorption, which prevents the brain from working properly.
Long-term drinking above the recommended levels may lead to a range of disorders, collectively known as alcohol-related brain injury (ARBI). Symptoms can include learning and memory problems, and difficulties with balance.
Drinking alcohol and risk taking
Young people are more likely to take risks when drinking. Alcohol is a significant factor in a range of risky situations, including:
• fighting or brawling
• drug overdose
Schoolies week and alcohol
Celebrating the end of high school (schoolies week) is often linked to episodes of very high levels of single-session drinking or deliberately drinking to intoxication.
According to an Australian study of school leavers, over 90% of reported drinking alcohol – consuming on average 8 standard drinks in the previous 12 hours.
Mixing alcohol with other drugs
Risky alcohol consumption can be linked to the use of other drugs. Taking alcohol with other drugs that also suppress the central nervous system (such as heroin and benzodiazepines) can be particularly risky. It can cause a person’s breathing and heart rate to decrease to dangerous levels and increase the risk of overdose.
The combination of alcohol and drugs (including cannabis) can also lead to increased risk taking. Driving or carrying out other activities while under the influence is dangerous – a young person may harm themselves and others.
Where to get help
This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:
Alcohol and Drug Foundation
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