Youth and Alcohol

Underage drinking is very common in Canada.

Close to 80% of young Canadians 15 years and older have reported drinking alcohol during the past year. It is the substance that the majority of young people in grades 7 through 12 will try first.  (Source: Canadian Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey, October 2018)

There are several reasons that a teen might decide to drink alcohol.

Adolescence is an exciting time, but it can also be a time where peer pressure, boredom, risk-taking and the need to ‘fit in’ become important factors in a teenager’s life. Sometimes the opinions and actions of your teen’s friends matter more to them than yours.

Young people may drink because they may feel a need to be like their friends or older siblings, or because they may see it happening all around them, on social media or at parties. They may be copying your drinking habits, or they may use alcohol to help them relax or deal with stress or anxiety they may feel.

Sometimes the opinions and actions of your teen’s friends matter more to them than yours.

Whatever the reason, the younger the person is when they begin drinking, the higher the risk for poor health and problems related to alcohol consumption later in life.     (Source: Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction: Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines)  Binge drinking, alcohol poisoning, driving while drunk, and early alcohol dependence in teens are concerns that we may face as parents. What are the risks of Alcohol Consumption for Youth? 

Alcohol is a depressant that slows the functioning of the central nervous system, including the brain.  Young people are at a higher risk for negative impacts from drinking alcohol because the executive functions in the teenage brain such as decision-making, motivation, emotion, reward, and risk-taking behaviors are not yet fully developed and will not be until their mid-twenties.

Young people are also vulnerable to alcohol-induced brain damage, which could contribute to poor performance at school or work.

When young people over-consume alcohol, they are at risk for accidental injury, alcohol poisoning, and motor vehicle crashes. While intoxicated, they may be more vulnerable to assaults, sexual coercion and mental health issues such as depression and self-harm, because alcohol impairs judgment, reasoning and the ability to evaluate risk.

Frequent or regular alcohol use has an impact on the physical health and mental well being of everyone, including youth. Long-term harms of excessive alcohol use include substance use disorders, learning and memory issues, problems with school performance, increased risk of school dropout, and increased risk for certain chronic diseases, such as liver disease, stroke, and cancer.

Additional Risks of Underage Drinking 

Road crashes are the number one cause of death among young people in Canada. 

Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death among 16 to 25-year-olds, and alcohol and/or drug impairment is a factor in 55% of those crashes. (Madd Canada) 

Having frequent conversations about drinking and driving (including being a passenger in a car with an impaired driver) with your teen before they begin driving is extremely important. 

Youth who consume alcohol (with or without other drugs) need to understand that their ability to drive will be significantly impaired. An impaired driver puts themself and everyone else on the road in danger including their passengers, cyclists, other drivers, and pedestrians.

Purified Alcoholic beverages

These single-serve drinks, like coolers, usually contain high alcohol content and are highly sweetened, masking the signs of overconsumption. Some of these beverages actually contain the same alcoholic content as four standard alcoholic drinks. The effects may not be felt immediately, increasing the chances of overconsumption.

A single-serve purified alcoholic beverage could be enough to severely intoxicate a youth, and two or more of these drinks could lead to unintentional overconsumption and acute alcohol poisoning, hospitalization, with even a risk of death. (Health Canada, May 2019)

Binge Drinking 

Binge drinking means having many drinks on one occasion. Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines recommends a maximum of 5 standard drinks for males, 4 for females. Drinking to get very drunk greatly increases the risk of safety and health issues in youth.

Alcohol Poisoning 

An alcohol overdose can happen to anyone who consumes alcohol too quickly. Teenagers and young adults who binge drink may be at particular risk. An alcohol overdose can happen when there is so much alcohol in the bloodstream that the areas of the brain controlling basic life-support functions — such as breathing, heart rate, and temperature control — begin to shut down.

Critical Signs and Symptoms of an Alcohol Overdose

  • Mental confusion, stupor
  • Difficulty remaining conscious, or inability to wake up
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Slow breathing (fewer than 8 breaths per minute)
  • Irregular breathing (10 seconds or more between breaths)
  • Slow heart rate
  • Clammy skin • Dulled responses, such as no gag reflex
  • Extremely low body temperature, bluish skin color, or paleness (which prevents choking)

Alcohol overdose can lead to permanent brain damage or death.

Know the Danger Signs and Act Quickly – Don’t play doctor – cold showers, hot coffee, or walking it off do not reverse alcohol overdose

Call 911 immediately.

Talk about Alcohol with your child – the earlier the better

Alcohol consumption is heavily ingrained in our culture, and chances are your teen has already tried a beer, or something stronger. Even though you might prefer they wait until they’re older to start the conversation, now is the time to discuss their alcohol use with them, calmly and in an informed way.

Many young people don’t really understand the potential risks involved with alcohol use at a young age. As a parent, caregiver or supportive adult, being informed about alcohol and its effects on youth can help you to initiate early, open and honest conversations with your pre-teens and teens.

Balanced conversations about alcohol can have a positive impact on the choices young people make as they grow into adulthood, and help them to make responsible decisions about its use.

Share and discuss Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines with your teen, and ask them if they feel it’s something they can follow.

Looking for more information on Alcohol as well as helpful suggestions on how to begin these important conversations with your child? Download the DFK Youth and Alcohol PDF here:   

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