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Alcohol and drinking

The risks associated with drinking alcohol and the help available if you are affected.

1 Overview

Drinking a small amount of alcohol can help make you feel relaxed and more sociable at parties and celebrations. However, drinking too much can have side-effects, such as feeling sick and dehydrated and can increase the risk of having an accident.

In the long term, drinking too much can affect your health, relationships and school/college work. It may also lead to alcohol related problems and possible dependence. 

2 The risks of alcohol

Even drinking a small amount of alcohol can start to have an effect on your mind and body as everyone reacts differently to alcohol. The effects depend on things such as how tall you are, how much you weigh and what you've had to eat.

Young people are most at risk from alcohol as young bodies and brains are still developing. Drinking can stop you thinking clearly, which means you may do things that you would not normally do. It affects your co-ordination, so that even simple things, like crossing the road, may be riskier. Find out more about the effects of drinking alcohol on The Mix.

Know your limits!

  • Men and women are advised not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis.
  • Spread your drinking over three or more days if you regularly drink as much as 14 units a week.
  • If you want to cut down, try to have several drink-free days each week.
  • Children and young people are advised not to drink any alcohol at all. If you do choose to drink, it should be very small amounts, when you’re at least 15 years old and with supervision.

Learn more about units on the NHS Choices website.

How to stay safe when drinking

If you decide to drink, stay safe by following these tips.

  • Eat a meal, such as pasta or pizza, before drinking. This can help slow down the absorption of alcohol and help you to stay in control. Your night will last longer and you're more likely to enjoy yourself. 
  • Make sure that you have enough credit or minutes left on your mobile in case you need to meet up with friends or call your parents.
  • Alternate alcohol with soft drinks. 
  • Don't mix your drinks as it makes it harder to keep track of how much you've had.
  • Keep an eye on your drink so that it can't be spiked with alcohol or drugs. 
  • Plan how you're going to get home safely. Make sure that someone knows where you are, don't get separated from your friends while you are out and keep enough money for a taxi home.
  • If you're getting a lift, make sure that the driver hasn't been drinking, or using other drugs.
  • Watch out for your friends. If anyone gets into difficulties, call an adult or, if the situation is dangerous, call 999.

3 Where you can get help and advice

You can find out about the risks of under-age drinking on the Drinkaware website. If you or someone you know has a problem with alcohol there are local organisations than can help.

National organisations that can help include:

  • Alateen - support for teenagers who have a friend or family member who is abusing alcohol
  • Addiction advocates - advisory and placement service for those struggling with alcohol, drug and behavioural addiction
  • Adfam - support for family members affected by a loved one’s drinking
  • Rehab 4 Addiction - drug and alcohol addiction helpline to help those affected by addiction.
  • ChangeGrowLive - local confidential treatment and support for young people aged up to 24 years
  • NHS Choices
  • ChatHealth - Get confidential advice from the free school nurse text messaging service.

4 Alcohol and the law

The law has very clear rules on alcohol and young people.

If you’re under 18, it is against the law:

  • for someone to sell you alcohol
  • to buy, or try to buy alcohol
  • for an adult to buy, or try to buy alcohol for you
  • to drink alcohol in a pub or restaurant.

If you’re 16 or 17 and accompanied by an adult, you can drink (but not buy) beer, wine or cider with a meal. If you’re 16 or under, you may be able to go to a pub or somewhere licensed to sell alcohol if you’re accompanied by an adult, but this is not always the case and you should check.

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Last updated:
23 November 2023
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