Youth and Alcohol

Drinking alcohol can harm physical and mental development, particularly in adolescence and early adulthood, although certain patterns of use are riskier than others. The human brain is still developing throughout adolescence and early adulthood until about 24 years of age. Drinking alcohol while these changes are occurring can have negative effects on the brain’s development. In addition to this risk, puberty causes neurochemical and hormonal changes that make adolescents more likely to engage in risky behaviour and seek thrilling experiences.

Starting to drink at the time when strategy and planning skills are still underdeveloped and the desire for thrills is high can have harmful effects on a youth’s health and safety. Additionally, like adults, youth who regularly consume alcohol above certain limits increase their risk of developing chronic illnesses such as cancer, stroke, heart and liver disease. The National Alcohol Strategy Advisory Committee (NASAC) has created the Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines (LRDGs) that are based on evidence-informed limits and were created to provide Canadians with recommendations for alcohol consumption that could limit their health and safety risks. For these reasons, the LRDGs recommend that youth delay drinking alcohol for as long as possible, at least until the legal drinking age. If youth do decide to drink, they should follow the Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines.

The guidelines recommend that youth up to the legal drinking age:

  • Speak to their parents about drinking

  • Never have more than one to two drinks per occasion

  • Never drink more than one or two times per week

The guidelines recommend that from the legal drinking age to 24 years:

  • Females never have more than two drinks a day and never more than 10 drinks a week

  • Males never have more than three drinks a day and never more than 15 drinks a week

Article by Michael Stephens, Prevention Hub Canada