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Young people and alcohol

William Haydock

The legal age to buy alcohol might be 18 in the UK, but most of us who have tried alcohol had our first taste well before then.  The problem with this is that drinking carries risks and some of these risks are higher while our brains and bodies are still developing.

This isn’t just about physical health, but also about decision-making.  When we’re younger we’re still working out what’s important to us and how we understand risk, so adding alcohol into that mix isn’t always a good idea.  We also know that alcohol has links with exploitation.

Alcohol Change UK have a great summary of the evidence around young people and alcohol, and the latest advice about how parents can best support their children.  For example, the Chief Medical Officers recommend that an alcohol-free childhood is best, particularly before the age of 15. 

Locally we have a range of services to support young people who are struggling with alcohol, as well as their parents or other concerned people around them.  There’s more information on our website, but the organisations Addaction, EDAS, REACH and Al-Anon, in their different ways, all support young people and their loved ones.

Crucially, young people aren’t only affected by their own drinking; they’re also affected by the drinking behaviour of other people around them.

At the most extreme end, we know that alcohol is implicated in 37% of serious case reviews – instances where a child has been abused or neglected, resulting in serious harm or death.

But the behaviour isn’t necessarily this extreme.  Alcohol Change UK note that being good role models for our children in terms of alcohol is helpful, but lots of us would think about this simply in terms of avoiding behaving badly or being too embarrassing.  But wouldn’t the ideal be for children to see us thinking carefully about our own drinking and making conscious choices?

By supporting adults who want help to change their behaviour, we therefore help to reduce the harm to children and young people locally.

Tomorrow, we’ll be talking more about the support available to people affected by a loved one’s drinking, with reflections from local resident Jo Huey, who has had family members struggle with their alcohol use.

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