Alcohol & safer drinking

Every year, young people drink less alcohol. But for some, drinking heavily and getting drunk is still a risk. Find out how to keep you, your family and your friends safe and healthy.
Young people on a camping trip

Drinking alcohol is a risk to health. The government and NHS recommend anyone drinking should stay within safer limits. For adults, this is no more than 2-3 units per day, with no more than 14 units in a week, with 2-3 days alcohol free. Anyone drinking this is at risk of damaging their health or becoming addicted.

For young people, there is no recommended safe limit.

Instant Expert: Find out how many units and calories there are in any alcoholic drink from Drinkaware.

It is important not drink alcohol at all:

  • If you are driving (this is against the law)
  • If you are pregnant, or think you might be pregnant (this can damage the health and development of your child)
  • If you are working or studying (this is against the rules, and won't help you learn or work)

Whenever anyone drinks alcohol there is a risk of harm. This includes harm to your health, but also to your safety and relationships. This is because alcohol is often part of the story when there are accidents, arguments, domestic violence, assault, drownings, suicides and self harm.

Crucial: Young people are most at risk from accidental alcohol poisoning from drinking too much. This is because young bodies and brains are going through fast changes. This means your body's response to alcohol can change very quickly, and you can suffer harm through drinking too much and too quickly - even if it feels like you have not drunk much at all. Know what to do in an emergency.

What the law says

It is illegal to sell anyone under 18 alcoholic drinks. You can enter a building where drinks are served (for example, to see a band play, or eat a meal) but only as long as the person running the building agrees.

It is illegal to buy anyone under 18 alcoholic drinks unless they are 16+, having a table meal with supervising adults, and drinking beer, wine or cider.

The police can confiscate alcoholic drinks from anyone aged under 18, or anyone over 18 if they think they are going to give the drink to someone under 18. Penalties for supplying alcohol to children can include fines of up to £5,000 for individuals and £20,000 for organisations. In some cases premises can be closed or lose their license. If the drinking is happening on a private property, then the owner of the property and people living or staying there can all get into trouble.

Crucial: Adults who supply alcohol to young people may be trying to harm or abuse you, even if they say it is a gift. Find out more about Criminal Exploitation, Child Sexual Exploitation and Gangs.

Think safe, drink safe

Fewer young people drink heavily nowadays. But alcohol-related harm is still a serious risk for some young people. Every week, over 1000 young people in the UK go to hospital for alcohol-related reasons. Make sure you are not one of them:

  1. Avoid Alcohol Poisoning Alcohol is a poison. Drink too much, too quickly, and alcohol can poison you, slowing down brain and bodily functions, until you lose consciousness, slip into a coma, and die. NHS Choices has a handy guide to how many units adults can drink before they start running serious risks. Children can be at risk from small amounts.
  2. Don't take risks Drunk people are at risk from drowning, falls, fights and accidents. Small amounts of alcohol make you careless and clumsy. Large amounts make you to fall over, vomit and lose consciousness (pass out).
  3. Look out for yourself and your friends When they are drunk, people take stupid risks and may do or say stupid, hurtful or dangerous things. It is easy to have arguments or do stupid things. You may not be able to remember what you did later.

Although many young people drink only a small amount, or not at all, some do drink a lot. These people are harming their health. Young people who need to drink a lot to feel drunk (who have a low alcohol response or who can hold their drink) are particularly at risk of health damage. This is because they consume the most alcohol. But anyone drinking enough get drunk may be risking their safety, learning, work, housing and relationships.

Drinkaware - What is a unit of alcohol?

Alcohol dependence

Anyone who drinks more than two units a day, more than four days a week is at risk of alcoholism. If you drink large amounts (binge drink) less often you are also at risk. If you find yourself drinking because you are unhappy, or have problems, or getting drunk even when you plan not to, alcohol could be a problem for you.

Effects of drinking too much alcohol are severe. They include:

  • Depression
  • Liver cirrhosis (damage and disease)
  • Heart failure
  • Damage to the brain and nervous system.

Alcoholism causes damage to friendships and loved ones, and problems with jobs, money and the law. Treatment is difficult, and some people are more at risk than others. You may be more at risk if:

  • One or more people in your family or household are misusing alcohol
  • You have a low alcohol response ("can handle your drink")
  • Your friends drink a lot

Young people who need to drink a lot to feel the effects, regularly drink at home and spend their leisure time with other people who drink heavily are risking their health. Although you may not feel drunk, the alcohol is still damaging your liver, brain, heart and other organs.

Instant expert: What are the risks of drinking every day? Abbeycare's Alcohol Demotivator adds up how much you are spending and the risks you are taking.

Think B4U Drink

Some young people get into serious trouble when they drink. Accidents, fights, unsafe sex, drunk driving and trouble with the police are just some of the things can happen. A group of young people in Banbury got together and created this advice to help young people stay safe:

When people get very drunk, they can't control their behaviour. They may ‘black out’ and do things they can't remember later, including very violent, stupid or dangerous actions.

Stay on top of your drinking by following the tips below.

  • Eat a meal before drinking.
  • Always know how you're getting home.
  • Drink slowly, or alternate alcohol with soft drinks.
  • Drink for enjoyment, not to get drunk.
  • Be aware that strong drinks like alcopops, spirits and strong beers will get you drunk faster.
  • Don't get bullied into drinking more than you want to.
  • Drink in safe places with people you trust.
  • Know your limit.
  • When you reach your limit, switch to soft drinks or go home.
  • Don't drive or accept lifts from strangers, stick to your original plan.
  • Drink a glass of water and sit up for a bit before you go to bed.
  • Go to sleep in the recovery position – on your side with your knees drawn up to stop you rolling onto your back.

If you are drinking you need to know about all kinds of other risks too. This includes things like drugs and highs, consent, safer sex, sexual health and emergency contraception, as well as staying safe and river safety.

Experience: I got pregnant while drunk I was shocked to find out I was pregnant as I didn't have a steady boyfriend. I had sex after a drunken party and went into a kind of denial. I had 11 pregnancy tests altogether trying to convince myself that they were faulty and that it wasn’t really happening. When I told my mum she was so upset. I felt like I had let everyone down. Anon, 17, Oxford.

If there is a problem with...

Your own drinking

If young people in Oxfordshire have a problem with alcohol or substance misuse, then you can get support from your local Children and Family Centre. Ask for the Aquarius worker or call 07950 301426 (9am-5pm weekdays) to request service. They understand that for some young people substance misuse can be a serious problem that gets in the way of learning, work, family, housing and hope for the future and they will work with you to help minimise harm and solve problems.

Instant Expert: Find out all about the Aquarius Service, which offers support to those who use substances and also those who are affected by familial substance misuse.

Someone else's drinking

If someone else's drinking is causing you problems, then young people in Oxfordshire can get support from your local Children and Family Centre. Ask for the Aquarius worker or call 07950 301426 (9am-5pm weekdays) to request service. They can work with you to make sure your needs are met, and also put the family in touch with support that will help the person with the problem understand the impact of their behaviour and seek help. If you frequently end up having to look after someone in your household because of their alcohol use, you may also be able to get support as a young carer.

While asking for help can be difficult, you are not alone, and support is available. The National Association for Children of Alcoholics (NACOA) estimates that there are almost a million children in the UK living with one or more alcohol dependent parents in the UK today. You can also discuss what support might be available with your GP or people at your school or college. There are also local and national support groups, helplines and meetings, such as:

While helping your family member may feel very important, it is also important that your needs (for food, safety, housing, love, education, time with friends and activities to support your wellbeing) are met. Families where someone is misusing substances are at higher risk of abuse, domestic violence and family breakdown. Support is available for families in need, to help them solve problems together.

Crucial: You do not have to be related to the person to ask for support, all that matters is that their substance misuse is causing problems for you.

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