Young people and alcohol – what are the risks?

The effects of alcohol on young people are not the same as they are on adults.  While alcohol misuse can present health risks and cause careless behaviour in all age groups, it is even more dangerous for young people. Find out how alcohol can affect young people’s health and behaviour.

Health risks

Because young people’s bodies are still growing, alcohol can interfere with their development. This makes young people particularly vulnerable to the long-term damage caused by alcohol. This damage can include:

  • cancer of the mouth and throat
  • sexual and mental health problems
  • liver cirrhosis and heart disease

Research also suggests that drinking alcohol in adolescence can harm the development of the brain.

Young people might think that any damage to their health caused by drinking lies so far in the future that it’s not worth worrying about. However, there has been a sharp increase in the number of people in their twenties dying from liver disease as a result of drinking heavily in their teens.

Young people who drink are also much more likely to be involved in an accident and end up in hospital.

Risky behaviour - sex

One in five girls aged 14 to 15 goes further than they wanted to in a sexual experience after drinking alcohol

Drinking alcohol lowers people’s inhibitions, and makes them more likely to do things they would otherwise not do. Young people are particularly at risk because, at their stage of life, they are still testing the boundaries of what is acceptable behaviour. 

One in five girls (and one in ten boys) aged 14 to 15 goes further than they wanted to in a sexual experience after drinking alcohol. In the most serious cases, alcohol could lead to them becoming the victim of a sexual assault.

Unsafe sex and unwanted pregnancy

If young people drink alcohol, they are more likely to be reckless and not use contraception if they have sex. Almost one in ten boys and around one in eight girls aged 15 to 16 have unsafe sex after drinking alcohol. This puts them at risk of sexual infections and unwanted pregnancy.

Research shows that a girl who drinks alcohol is more than twice as likely to have an unwanted pregnancy as a girl who doesn’t drink.

Antisocial behaviour

More than one in three teenagers who drink alcohol at least once a week have committed violent offences such as robbery or assault

Alcohol interferes with the way people think and makes them far more likely to act carelessly. If young people drink alcohol, they are more likely to end up in dangerous situations.

For example, they are more likely to climb walls or other heights and fall off. Or they might verbally abuse someone who could hit them. They are also more likely to become aggressive themselves and throw a punch.

Four out of ten secondary school-age children have been involved in some form of violence because of alcohol. This could mean they have been beaten up or robbed after they’ve been drinking, or have assaulted someone themselves.

Getting into trouble with the police

If a child or young person drinks alcohol, then they are more likely to get into trouble with the police. Every year, more than 10,000 fines for being drunk and disorderly are issued to young people aged 16 to 19.

Children as young as 12 are being charged with criminal damage to other people’s property as a result of drinking.

Criminal behaviour

Young people who get drunk at least once a month are twice as likely to commit a criminal offence as those who don’t. More than one in three teenagers who drink alcohol at least once a week have committed violent offences such as robbery or assault.

Young people who get involved with crime are also likely to end up with a criminal record. This can damage their prospects for the rest of their life. Having a criminal record can exclude people from some jobs and, for some offences, prevent them from travelling abroad.

Failing to meet potential at school

When young people drink, it takes longer for the alcohol to get out of their system than it does in adults. So if young people drink alcohol on a night before school, then they can do less well in lessons the next day.

Young people who regularly drink alcohol are twice as likely to miss school and get poor grades as those who don’t. Almost half of young people excluded from school are regular drinkers.

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