The short and long term risks
When it comes to the risks of children drinking alcohol, they can be both short or long-term. Knowing these risks makes it all the more important to talk to your children about alcohol before it's too late.
Children can make more responsible decisions about drinking if they have the facts to base them on and feel confident to say “no” if they want to. While the immediate effects of alcohol on children may be no more than being sick or having a hangover, alcohol can leave children emotionally, physically and sexually vulnerable. So the most important thing is to talk to your child early and often about the different risks associated with drinking alcohol.
You might think that only lifelong alcoholics get liver disease, but regularly drinking too much can increase a young person’s chances of damaging their liver. And as there aren’t many warning signs of liver damage, a problem might only be discovered when it’s very serious.
The areas of the brain responsible for behaviour, emotions, reasoning and judgement are still developing throughout childhood and into the teenage years. Drinking during this time can have a long-term impact on memory, reactions and attention span. This could affect your child's performance at school and stop them reaching their full potential.
Drinking later in life
If children binge drink, they are more likely to be binge drinkers as adults. Drinking frequently at a young age is also linked to an increased risk of developing alcohol dependence in young adulthood. Regularly drinking in later life can lead to cancer, stroke, heart disease and infertility.
The hormonal changes children go through at puberty make them more likely to take risks. Alcohol can further impair children’s judgement, leaving them vulnerable. If they have been drinking they might unintentionally put themselves in risky situations like getting involved in a fight or walking home alone. Over a third (34%) of 16 and 17 year olds have walked home alone at night when drunk.
Alcohol affects children’s rational decision-making skills. When children drink they feel more confident and have lower inhibitions. This can mean they make decisions which are out of character such as having unprotected sex.
Alcohol can be poisonous to anyone that drinks too much in a short space of time but children are especially vulnerable because of their smaller size. Serious health effects of alcohol on children can be seen when their blood alcohol levels get too high. This can cause their brain to stop controlling their body’s vital functions and in the worst case scenario they could stop breathing, fall into a coma or choke on their own vomit.
Alcohol has almost as many calories as pure fat so drinking can cause weight gain. It is also a diuretic so it dehydrates the body and can make skin look pale and grey. Drinking affects normal sleep patterns too, leading to restless nights and tiredness.
Are you drinking too much?
Find out how many units you are drinking
Compare your drinking to the government's daily unit guidelines.Try our Unit Calculator
Take a drinking self assessment
Answer these simple questions and find out what kind of a relationship you have with alcohol.Assess your drinking
Page updated: April 2013
Did you know?
More than 1 in 10 deaths of people in their 40s are from liver disease, most are from alcoholic liver diseaseAlcohol and the liver
Calculate your calories
Find out how many calories are in your drinksTry our unit calculator
- How much is too much for under 18s to drink?
- When to talk to your children about alcohol
- What do other parents do?
- Why talk to your kids about alcohol?
- Does my drinking affect my child?