Children are perceptive and take in everything that is happening around them – particularly the habits and behaviour of their parents or guardians. Being a positive role model and setting an example when it comes to your child’s relationship and understanding of alcohol is very important. Children learn a lot by watching their parents. When parents have a healthy relationship with alcohol, they are showing their children how to do the same.
If you are exploring the topic of alcohol with your child and want to provide the best example you can, consider the following:
There is a common misconception among young people that drinking alcohol during teenage years is normal. It’s important to remember that not all young people drink alcohol at this time. However for those that do drink alcohol there are many short and long-term risks associated with underage drinking that everyone should be aware of. Here are just a few to consider.
Alcohol doesn’t just affect your body physically. There is growing evidence to suggest that young people who drink alcohol are at increased risk for developing mental health issues including emotional and behavioural problems. (1)
A study conducted with participants aged between 12 and 19 years old found a strong association between categories of drinking behaviour and severity of depression, anxiety and stress.
Alcohol is sometimes referred to as a ‘gateway drug’, for teenagers as it can be the first step on the path to illegal drug use.
Compared to non-drinkers, young people who drink alcohol are more likely to smoke tobacco, use cannabis or use other illegal drugs. Irish adolescents with serious drug and alcohol problems began to drink alcohol at a much earlier age than those without such problems. (2)
Research shows that the younger people are when they start to drink, the more likely they are to experience alcohol-related harm such as physical health risks.
Drinking from a young age and particularly binge drinking – six or more standard drinks in one sitting – can increase the chance of a number of serious long-term physical health risks including liver disease, high blood pressure, cancer and heart disease. (3)
Evidence has emerged in recent years on the impact of alcohol on the developing brain. The brain continues to develop throughout childhood, adolescence and into young adulthood. If alcohol is introduced at this time it can have an impact on long-term brain function including concentration, memory and learning and create alcohol related problems later in life. (4)
This is a formative period, when a young person is making important decisions about their future – which college to attend, which career path to follow, where to travel and so on. Drinking too much at this age could potentially have an impact on these key decisions.
Alcohol is a key risk factor for early sexual activity. When young people drink it lowers inhibitions and can cause them to do things that they may not do if they had not been drinking. Their decision-making skills are affected and they’re more likely to take risks – like having unprotected sex. This can lead to sexually transmitted infections and an unwanted pregnancy. Another major concern is that alcohol can quickly impair judgement, which has serious implications for young people in terms of negotiating consent. (5)
Alcohol can damage areas of the brain responsible for learning, concentration and memory. Underage alcohol use can result in lower grades, poor school attendance and increases in dropout rates.
Heavy and binge drinkers are 4-6 times more likely than non-drinkers to say they have cut classes or skipped school. They are twice as likely as non-drinkers to say that their school work is poor and that they are disobedient at school. (6)
Alcohol can reduce a young person’s physical abilities affecting judgment and co-ordination, which can result in physical harm to the person drinking or others around them. Young people who binge drink are at high risk of incurring injuries and being a victim or perpetrator of crime and violence.
In a recent Irish study 16% of respondents in senior cycle at school reported having injured themselves or someone else when drinking in the past year. (7)
(1) Fitzgerald, A. & Dooley, B. (2013) Alcohol and Youth Mental Health. Psychiatry Professional, Spring 2013.
(2) Smyth, B. (2008) Calling Time on Alcohol Advertising and Sponsorship in Ireland’ Supporting a Ban on Alcohol Advertising in Ireland, Protecting Children and Adolescents. A Policy Paper prepared by the Faculty of Addiction Psychiatry of the Irish College of Psychiatrists.
(3) National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) Alcohol’s Effects on the Body. Available at: http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/alcohols-effects-body
(4) National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) Underage Drinking. A Major Public Health Concern. Alcohol Alert No. 59. Rockville, MD: NIAAA, 2003.
(5) Mac Neela, P., Conway, T., Kavanagh, S., Kennedy, L. and Mc Caffrey, J. (2014) Young People, Alcohol and Sex: What’s Consent Got to Do with it? Exploring How Attitudes to Alcohol Impact on Judgements About Consent to Sexual Activity: A Qualitative Study of University Students. Research Report commissioned by Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) School of Psychology, National University of Ireland, Galway.
(6) Greenblatt, J. (2000) Patterns of Alcohol Use Among Adolescents and Associations with Emotional and Behavioural Problems. Rockville, MD: Office of Applied Studies Working Paper. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration.
(7) Hope, A. (2008) Alcohol Related Harm in Ireland. Health Service Executive – Alcohol Implementation Group: 29.