The Family Peace Foundation wants to do everything it can to keep young people safe, including protecting them from harms that might result from drinking alcohol. This fact sheet provides information for parents, guardians and older siblings about alcohol and young people.

When is it ok for a young person to drink alcohol?

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) is Australia’s peak organisation for supporting health and medical research and for developing health advice for Australians. The NHMRC have produced guidelines on alcohol called the Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol (Alcohol Guidelines), which provide information on how to reduce the risks from drinking alcohol. The Alcohol Guidelines recommend:

For children and young people under 18 years of age, not drinking alcohol is the safest option.

A. Parents and carers should be advised that children under 15 years of age are at the greatest risk of harm from drinking and that for this age group, not drinking alcohol is especially important.

B. For young people aged 15−17 years, the safest option is to delay the initiation of drinking for as long as possible.

Put simply, it is best for young people aged under 18 years to avoid drinking alcohol. It is also important to understand that young adults aged up to 25 years are also still at greater risk of alcohol-related harms. This is due to their lower tolerance of alcohol, greater risk of accidents and injuries, and increased risk of impairments to the still-developing brain.

What are the risks for young people who drink alcohol?

Young people have a significantly lower tolerance to alcohol, meaning that they are more physically sensitive to the effects of alcohol consumption. Combined with emotional immaturity and relative inexperience at performing certain tasks that require attention and coordination, young people are at particularly high risk of alcohol-related harm.

There are a number of short and long term risks associated with early alcohol use. These include:

  • Physical injury;
  • Increased risk taking and antisocial behaviour;
  • Risky sexual behaviour;
  • Poor academic performance;
  • Permanent damage to the structure and function of the developing brain;
  • Mental health issues such as depression;
  • Increased likelihood of illicit drug use, whether at the same time as the alcohol use or later in life; and
  • Increased likelihood of later alcohol addiction.

Alcohol consumption also contributes to the three leading causes of death among adolescents – unintentional injuries, homicide and suicide.