What's the harm
Alcohol causes health risks that accumulate over a lifetime. The younger you start drinking, the longer you'll be exposed to these risks.
Even one episode of very risky drinking can cause acute brain damage. Lower levels of drinking over longer periods of time can also cause gradual damage to a young person's brain.
Research also indicates that even low levels of regular alcohol consumption are associated with developmental delays in young people. These may include memory loss, cognitive impairment and learning difficulties and damage to the parts of the brain that relate to motivation, impulse control and addiction.
This is because young people's brains are not fully developed until they are in their early twenties, and sometimes later. Early alcohol consumption can alter the development of pathways within the brain.
Alcohol also interferes with vitamin B absorption, which prevents the brain working properly. Long term drinking can also lead to alcohol-related brain damage, which can involve learning and memory problems and difficulties with balance.
Those who drink heavily can also experience one-off and long term memory loss and hallucinations.
Drinking alcohol is expensive - and most young people don't have high levels of disposable cash, so they sacrifice other things for alcohol. Young people that drink heavily may also find that they are regularly missing work or school, or having trouble holding onto jobs.
Poor mental health outcomes are often associated with alcohol use. Alcohol consumption, especially heavy or regular drinking, can lead to young people having:
- difficulty coping with work or school commitments
- problems at school or work and in relationships
- a range of other emotional and mental health problems.
Addiction and substance abuse
People who start drinking alcohol at a young age, even in small amounts, are more likely to develop alcohol and substance abuse problems later in life than those that delay drinking.
Long term alcohol use is associated with a range of serious illnesses and health problems, including:
- a number of different types of cancer - including cancer of the breast, throat, mouth, oesophagus, lips and liver
- liver disease, including cirrhosis
- kidney disease and kidney failure
- heart disease
- high blood pressure
- weakness and loss of muscle tissue
- inflamed stomach lining and bleeding in the stomach
- increased risk of lung infections.