Alcohol and young people
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As a teenager, you may be interested in drinking alcohol. Perhaps your friends talk about drinking or you think you will have more fun, and fit in, if you drink. It's important to understand how alcohol can affect you, and if you choose to drink, how to do it safely and responsibly.
What is alcohol?
There are different kinds of alcohol. The one that people drink is called ethyl alcohol. It is made by fermenting different ingredients. There are three main types: beer, wine and spirits.
Drinks have different strengths (percentages of alcohol). For example 30mls of spirits have about the same amount of alcohol as 100ml of wine. In Australia alcoholic soda drinks (also known as 'alcopops') are popular alcoholic drinks among young people, especially girls.
What does it do?
Alcohol slows the action of the central nervous system – it is what is called a 'depressant' drug.
In small amounts, alcohol can make people feel more relaxed and less inhibited.
If you drink too much, it can slur your speech, make your movements clumsy and impair your balance, coordination and judgement and possibly lead to nausea and vomiting. You can overdose on alcohol. It can affect your breathing, heart rate and gag reflex and potentially lead to coma and death.
Large amounts can also have a strong effect on mood and lead to violence and aggression, depression and reckless behaviour.
See the topic 'Alcohol – drinking too much' for more.
There are many harmful effects of drinking too much in the long term.
The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) released guidelines about drinking alcohol when under 18 years in 2009:
'...children under 15 years of age are at the greatest risk of harm from drinking and that for this group, not drinking alcohol is especially important.'
'For young people aged 15-17 years, the safest option is to delay the initiation of drinking for as long as possible.'
NHMRC 'Australian Guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol' February 2009 Guidelines
When am I allowed to drink alcohol?
There are a range of legal requirements concerning young people and alcohol in South Australia. In summary the law says that if you are under 18 you can't buy or drink alcohol in licensed premises and you can't consume or have alcohol in a public place, unless you are with your parent or guardian. Go to the Legal Services Commission website for more.
Many young people drink in unsafe ways, or do things which could be dangerous while alcohol is affecting their judgement and skills.
- Binge drinking can cause alcohol poisoning, which can cause death.
- Alcohol may make young people more vulnerable to sexual assault.
- Driving and swimming can be very dangerous when drunk - most people over the age of 12 who drown are affected by alcohol.
- Young people who are drunk are more likely to get involved in fights.
- Alcoholic sodas and pre-mix drinks are popular with young people but they can have a lot more alcohol in them than you might think.
Drink spiking – adding alcohol or other mind altering substances to someone's drink without their permission – is illegal and dangerous.
For more see the topic Spiking drinks.
How to be a responsible drinker
- Keep track of how much you are drinking.
- Drink steadily.
- Avoid alcoholic shots, which have a high concentration of alcohol.
- Drink water in between alcoholic drinks.
- Eat food, but try to steer clear of salty foods that increase thirst.
- Don't mix alcohol and other drugs.
Alcohol during pregnancy
Pregnancy and alcohol do not mix. Alcohol can affect the growth and brain development of an unborn baby. Have a look at the topic 'Alcohol - effects on unborn children' for more information about this problem.
Hangovers occur after a person has drunk too much alcohol. Time is the only thing that is known to always improve the symptoms, which can include headaches, nausea and vomiting.
- Drug and Alcohol Services South Australia
- Alcohol and Drug Information Service - telephone 1300 13 13 40 – 24-hour confidential telephone counselling and information
- Aboriginal Drug and Alcohol Council (SA) Inc – telephone (08) 8351 9031:
- Al-Anon/Alateen Family Group (for families of people with a drinking problem)
- telephone (08) 8231 2959 (24 hour service) or (08) 8212 6824.
- Department for Education and Child Development's Drug Strategy:
The Reach Out website, an online youth mental health service
Australian Drug Information Network:
Lawstuff, legal information for young Australians
National Alcohol Campaign
NADA, Network of Alcohol and other drug agencies
The Cancer Council of NSW - 'Alcohol and cancer'
The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Youth Healthline on 1300 13 17 19 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).