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Teens and drinking alcohol

Drinking alcohol can affect your decision-making, your health and your physical appearance. If you’re under 18 and choose to drink alcohol, make sure you understand the law, what the risks are and how to look after yourself.

The effects of drinking alcohol

Drinking alcohol often takes away your inhibitions. This means that it’s more likely you’ll do something dangerous that you wouldn’t normally decide to do. Did you know that:

  • 10,000 young people go to hospital every year because they have been drinking
  • more than one in ten 15 and 16-year-olds are involved in an accident caused by drinking
  • one in five 15-year-old girls say they have had sex after drinking alcohol that they later regretted
  • you’re more likely to have unprotected sex if you’ve been drinking
  • young women who drink alcohol are twice as likely to have an unplanned pregnancy than those who don’t
  • you’re more likely to get a criminal record or get into trouble with the police if you drink too much on a regular basis

Effects of alcohol on your health

It's a fact

One bottle of alcopop has the same amount of calories as one-third of a pizza

Drinking too much alcohol when you’re under 18 also has negative effects on your physical appearance. Too much alcohol can:

  • make you put on weight, as most alcoholic drinks are full of calories
  • reduce your level of fitness
  • dry out your skin and cause an outbreak of spots

Drinking alcohol as a teenager can also lead to longer-term health issues like:

  • liver failure
  • heart disease
  • cancer of the mouth and throat
  • mental health problems

If you would like to know more about how alcohol can affect your health in the future, visit NHS Choices.

Alcohol and the law

Even though it’s not illegal to drink alcohol at home if you’re under 18, it’s healthier if you don’t. If you do want to drink, you should only do it with a parent or another responsible adult.

It is illegal to try and buy alcohol at a bar or at any shop until you reach 18. It’s also against the law for anyone to try and buy it for you.

You’re actually allowed to go into family areas of a pub from the age of 5, but only if they have a special ‘children’s certificate’. Once you reach 14, you’re allowed to go anywhere in a pub, but you won’t be able to buy any alcohol.

16 and 17-year-olds can order and drink beer, wine or cider with a meal at a restaurant or pub where food is served. You can only do this if there is an adult with you.

The police can now stop people under 18 if they think they may be carrying alcohol. If you are stopped and you're carrying alcohol, the police can confiscate it. It's also an offence to be regularly found in possession of alcohol.

Drinking in public

Some towns in the UK have banned drinking in public places like parks, town squares or city centres. Some transport companies have also banned drinking on buses and trains.

If you are drinking alcohol in a public place, you can be stopped by a police officer and have your drink taken from you. You can also be fined or arrested.

Drink driving

Driving under the influence of alcohol is illegal and very dangerous. It puts you as a driver, any other passengers in your car, other drivers and pedestrians in danger of serious injury.

If you are stopped by the police and found to be driving with too much alcohol in your body, you:

  • will lose your licence for at least 12 months
  • will get a criminal record
  • will be given a fine of up to £5,000
  • may face a prison sentence of six months

Advice on drinking alcohol

Drinking alcohol can be especially harmful if you’re under 15, so it is recommended that you don’t drink at all if you’re under this age.

The best advice for your health is not to drink alcohol until you’re 18. If you do choose to drink before then, remember to:

  • make sure you’re with a responsible adult who will stop you doing anything that could be dangerous
  • never drink more than once a week
  • never drink more than the recommended number of units in a day

If you have an iPhone, you can download an NHS Drinks Tracker app. The app makes it easier for you to calculate the alcohol units in your drinks.

Deciding not to drink

Remember that it’s not weird or unnatural to choose not to drink alcohol at all. More and more young people are deciding not to drink at all, even if they are over 18. The choice is up to you.

You might be worried about your friends trying to pressure you into drinking. If you don’t want to drink, be confident and explain why.

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