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Alcohol and youth

Alcohol is the most common psychoactive (mind altering) substance used by youth and young adults and is the leading preventable risk factor for death and social problems in this age group.

The risk of alcohol related harms is greater for youth than for adults even for the same number of drinks consumed. 

Youth might not be familiar with the effects of alcohol, and many young people do not drink in moderation on a regular basis, but rather alternate between periods of abstinence and binge drinking (drinking a lot of alcohol on a single occasion) putting them at risk for bad decision making that can lead to injuries, aggression, and/or violence.

Alcohol effects how a person thinks, acts, and moves and is related to increased chances of suicide, homicide, drowning and experiencing or committing physical or sexual assault.

Recent trends suggest that some youth are combining alcohol with other drugs or caffeinated energy drinks. These substances can interact and increase the effects of alcohol and can cause dangerous and unpredictable effects in the body, including alcohol poisoning, drug overdose and death.


Alcohol and the developing brain

The human brain is still developing throughout adolescence and early adulthood, until about 25 years of age. 

The frontal lobe, the area of the brain that is involved in planning, strategizing, organizing, impulse control, concentration and attention is the last part of the brain to mature. 

Alcohol has a direct effect on the brain and drinking alcohol while the brain is still maturing can have negative effects on the brain’s development. 

Puberty also causes hormonal changes that make adolescents more likely to engage in risky behaviour and seek thrilling experiences. 

Drinking at the time when strategy and planning skills are still developing and the desire for thrills is high can lead to increased risk of harm for youth. 

Youth under the drinking age should delay alcohol use for as long as possible. 

For more information about youth alcohol and substance use, see:

Talk with your Kids

Talking about substance use with your kids?  Make your conversations age appropriate.

Drug Free Kids Canada:  Youth and Alcohol

Substances at a Glance:  Alcohol

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