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Alcohol and young people

alcohol; alcoholic; intoxicated; intoxication; binge; spiking; drink; drinking; spike;

Alcohol can have harmful effects on young people. It can affect brain development and it also places young people at high risk of injuries.


Young people drink alcohol for many reasons. They may be curious about alcohol, they may be influenced by peer pressure, or they may drink alcohol when they go out because they think it will mean they enjoy themselves more.

Alcohol guidelines

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) released guidelines about young people under 18 years and alcohol in 2009:

'...children under 15 years of age are at the greatest risk of harm from drinking and that for this group, not drinking alcohol is especially important.'

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

NHMRC 'Australian Guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol' February 2009 Guidelines 

Australian Government, Department of Health and Aging says, in  'Alcohol and your kids: a guide for parents and carers' 

There are many good reasons to encourage your teenager not to drink alcohol before turning 18. Early drinking is related to increased alcohol consumption in adolescence and young adulthood.

These drinking patterns are also related to the possibility of damage to the developing brain and development of alcohol related harms in adulthood.

What are the laws about young people and alcohol?

There are a range of legal requirements concerning alcohol and young people in  South Australia.  In summary the law says that if you are under 18 you can't buy or drink alcohol in licensed premises and you can't consume or have alcohol in a public place, unless you are with a parent or guardian.

For more information about the law in South Australia relating to young people and alcohol, go to the Legal Services Commission website  http://www.lawhandbook.sa.gov.au/ch06s01s16.php

Having a party?

You do not need to have alcohol at parties.

If you are going to have alcohol available:

  • Make sure you have some low-alcohol and no-alcohol drinks. Have lots of water available.
  • Use small glasses.
  • Have food available. Steer clear of salty foods that increase thirst.
  • Let people know if there is alcohol in a drink such as punch or fruit cup and let them fill their own glasses.
  • If they've drunk too much, don't let them drive - either call a cab, ask a non-drinker to give them a lift home, or give them a bed for the night.

Spiking drinks

Drink spiking – adding alcohol or other mind altering substances to someone's drink – without their permission is illegal and dangerous. Talk to your child about the dangers of drink spiking and how to protect themselves. For more see the topic Drink spiking.

Dangerous drinking

young people and alcoholMany young people drink in unsafe ways, or do things which could be dangerous while alcohol is affecting their judgement and skills.

Many young people drink to get drunk (binge drinking).

  • Binge drinking can cause alcohol poisoning, which can cause death.
  • Alcohol may make young people more vulnerable to sexual assault.
  • Driving and swimming can be very dangerous when drunk - most people over the age of 12 who drown are affected by alcohol.
  • Young people who are drunk are more likely to get involved in fights.

What is an alcohol problem?

People have different ideas about what 'problem drinking' or an 'alcohol problem' is – but most would agree that it involves a level of alcohol use which causes ongoing troubles in the lives of the alcohol users and of their families and friends.

Some of the problems could be:

  • drinking leading to arguments and fights
  • problems at work, like being late, not turning up for work, causing accidents or not performing
  • problems at school, TAFE or university like being late, taking days off, not getting work done or in on time
  • road accidents
  • money worries – some young people steal to get money for alcohol
  • legal issues, such as being arrested for drink-driving,  facing the loss of a driver's licence, or going to jail
  • health problems. See the Drug and Alcohol Services South Australia fact sheet 'Alcohol and the body'
  • becoming dependent on alcohol, drinking more and more alcohol to feel the effects (called "tolerance" – one of the features of alcohol dependence).

More information

There is more information about alcohol and its effects in the Teen Health topics


South Australia


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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).

This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.

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