Young people and alcohol
The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recommends that children and young people under the age of 18 do not drink.
This fact sheet provides information about the recommendation and some suggestions for how parents can talk with their children about alcohol and reducing the associated risks.
The NHMRC's guidelines state that for children and young people under 18 years of age, not drinking is the safest option.
The guidelines were developed using research and evidence to make an assessment of the potential alcohol-related harms (such as injury and disease) that people may experience from drinking.
Risk of injury and self-harm
Drinking contributes to the three leading causes of death among adolescents – unintentional injuries, homicide and suicide.
Dangerous behaviour is more likely among young people when they drink than among older drinkers. For example, the evidence indicates that drinking alcohol when young is associated with risky behaviours such as:
Effect on brain development
The brain is still developing in the teenage years. Drinking alcohol during this time may damage the brain and lead to health complications later in life.
Drinking early may damage the area of the brain that is responsible for decision-making, memory, and emotions. If the brain is damaged by drinking early, it could affect a person's:
Drinking alcohol increases the risk of developing mental health and social problems, especially when a person starts drinking at a young age.
There is some evidence to suggest that:
Age young people start to drink
The earlier a child is introduced to alcohol the more likely they are to develop problems with alcohol later in life. Young people should therefore delay their first drink for as long as possible.
Research has suggested that young people who drink before 18 years of age are at increased risk of:
What can parents do?
While young people are influenced by many groups, such as the media, their friends and siblings, parents continue to be the greatest influence. Parents can play an important role in their children's attitudes towards, and use of, alcohol and other drugs.
Be the world's expert on your child: How much your child is influenced by others is important when weighing up the risk of them consuming alcohol and drugs. Think about how susceptible your child is to the influence of peers and the attitudes and behaviours of their friends.
Get the facts: There are a lot of myths about alcohol and other drugs. Use evidence-based sources like The Other Talk to give your child the most accurate information.
Be clear in your beliefs: Based on the evidence, clarify your view of alcohol and other drugs. For example, it's up to you whether your child drinks or not, but when making your decision consider the NHMRC's guidelines, which state that the safest option for children and people under 18 is not to drink. The guidelines show evidence that parental monitoring and family rules about alcohol do reduce the likelihood of young people drinking.
Look for opportunities to start a conversation with your child: Keep conversations about alcohol and other drugs relaxed. Use relevant topics on the TV or radio and events as an opportunity to talk. It's best to start talking about these issues early. Try to have the conversation in a quiet place or in a comfortable environment, e.g. the family dinner table. It's never too early to have the conversation and there is no limit to the number of conversations you can have.
Ask questions: Find out your child's views about alcohol and other drugs. Talk about what they would do in different situations.
Make sure they understand the harms: Using The Other Talk, make sure your child has the right information about alcohol and other drugs and correct any
Set rules and consequences: Explain your views on alcohol and other drugs and use the facts to back them up. Let your child know your rules and the consequences for breaking them. Help them develop ways of getting out of situations where their friends are using alcohol or other drugs and they don't want to be embarrassed by not taking part.
Set a good example: You influence your child's attitudes and behaviours, so if you drink responsibly your child is more likely to do the same later in life. Role-modelling responsible drinking means:
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Last updated: 30 June 2016