Alcohol and your health

Alcohol affects young people more than it affects adults. The effects are more dangerous because if you are a teenager your body is still developing, which puts you more at risk of long term harm.

Young people aged 16 to 24 years in Great Britain are less likely to drink than any other age group, but when they do drink, consumption on their heaviest drinking day tends to be higher than other ages.

In 2009 the Chief Medical Advisor issued guidance to help minimise the risk of drinking amongst young people:

  • Young people shouldn’t drink before they are 15 years old
  • Even at age 15 or older drinking can affect your health so not drinking is the healthiest option
  • If 15 to 17 year olds drink it should be no more than one day a week and should never exceed the recommended adult weekly alcohol limits (no more than 14 units a week) and, when they do drink, they should usually drink less than that amount
  • If 15 to 17 years olds drink, it should be with their parent/carer or in a supervised environment.

The long term risks of drinking alcohol can include:

Sexual health problems e.g. being unable to ‘get it up’ (erectile dysfunction)

Mental health issues such as depression and suicidal thoughts

Cancer of the mouth and throat

Damage in brain function, particularly relating to memory, motor skills (ability to move) and coordination.

Drinking too much can also put you at risk of:

  • Accidents
  • Getting into a fight
  • Domestic violence or abuse
  • Unprotected sex leading to an STI or pregnancy

UK daily guidelines for drinking are measured in units. The amount of units in a drink varies depending on its strength and the size of the glass. The recommended units are no more than 14 units per week. It is also recommended to have at least 2 days a week where you don’t drink.

Labels on bottles of alcoholic drinks usually contain information to help you work out units. They tell you the total number of units contained in a bottle or the number of units in a specific standard measure, as well as alcoholic strength.

Alcohol units information