Alcohol & safer drinking

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

Drinking alcohol is a risk to adults. The government recommends anyone drinking should stay within safe limits. This is 2-3 units for adult men and women. For young people, there is no recommended safe limit. To find out how many units and calories are in your drink check out Drinkaware.

Sometimes you should not drink alcohol at all:

  • If you are driving
  • If you are pregnant, or think you might be pregnant
  • If you are working or studying.

But whenever anyone drinks alcohol there is a risk of harm. This includes harm to your health, safety and relationships.

Crucial: Young people are most at risk from accidentally 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, too quickly - even if it feels like you have not drunk much at all.

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 aged over 18 if they think they are going to give the drink to someone aged 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.  

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 are drinking heavily nowadays. But alcohol-related harm is still a serious risk for 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 may be at risk from lower 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, collapse, 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 young 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, because they consume the most alcohol.

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 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.

There will probably be 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 of your family members 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.

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.

Crucial: People who encourage you to drink a lot  may be trying to harm or abuse you, even if they are being friendly. Find out more about Criminal Exploitation, Child Sexual Exploitation and Gangs.

Someone else's drinking

If someone else's drinking is causing you problems, you are not alone. The National Association for Children of Alcoholics (NACOA) estimates that there are almost a million children living with one or more alcohol dependent parents in the UK today. You can get help from:

  • Support groups like Alateen – for family and friends of alcoholics
  • The NACOA helpline on 0800 358 3456

If you frequently end up having to look after a relative because of their alcohol use, you may also be able to get support as a young carer.

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. My doctor arranged for me to talk to someone and eventually I decided to keep my baby.’ Young mum, 17, Oxford.

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