Keep Their Future Bright: Teenagers and alcohol

As parents and carers, we’re always learning and growing – especially when we come across new information about how to keep our kids healthy and safe.

Talk to your children about alcohol’s harms - and refuse to supply it when they’re under 18 - to give their developing brain the best possible start.

Alcohol affects your teenager’s developing brain

Exposing teenagers to alcohol, even in small amounts, is harmful to the cells inside the developing brain.

The effects can be anything from finding schoolwork harder to trouble processing emotions or performing at their chosen sport.

  • Health experts have found that for teenagers, even small amounts of alcohol are harmful .
  • Drinking alcohol can impact brain development up until the age of 25, resulting in affected attention, memory, and decision-making abilities.1, 2
  • Not drinking means that teenagers can keep their developing brains safe.

How else does alcohol affect teenagers?

Let’s take a look at some of the other ways alcohol can impact your teen.

Research shows that early exposure to alcohol among teenagers, even in small amounts, can affect their mental health.

  • Staying alcohol free helps young people develop good mental health and resilience.
  • Anxiety is a common side effect from drinking (sometimes called hangxiety). It’s partly caused by the chemical changes that take place in our brains when we drink.

Alcohol was recently upgraded to a Group 1 cancer causing substance – the same category as tobacco and other products strongly linked to cancer.

  • Every additional drink of alcohol increases the risk of developing breast, liver, mouth, bowel and other cancers.
  • Helping teenagers enjoy an alcohol-free youth sets them up for a healthier future.

Everyone has a different approach to parenting, but most parents choose not to give alcohol to their underage children, knowing that even a small amount can be harmful to their brain.

They also don’t want their children growing up thinking alcohol is necessary to have fun, relax and socialise.

We can teach our teenagers they can enjoy time with others without alcohol - for example, by not offering them a drink with dinner, on camping trips or at weddings. When kids know they can socialise without alcohol, they can grow up to make healthier choices about drinking.

How to talk about drinking with your child

The guidance you give plays an important role in helping your kids enjoy their teenage years.

Even if it doesn’t always feel like it, you can have a big impact on your teenager’s behaviour.

This begins with open conversations about the effects of alcohol and letting them know we won’t give it to them while they’re underage, while explaining our reasons why.

Protect your teen from the alcohol industry’s advertising tactics

The alcohol industry uses sneaky social media marketing and product design to target teenagers.

This is another great reason to talk to your teen about alcohol. As parents and carers, we can help our kids identify and resist alcohol marketing messages.

Find out how to limit teen exposure to alcohol ads on social media.

Secondary supply laws

  • It’s illegal for staff of licensed premises to serve alcohol to minors in Australia.
  • In most states and territories, it’s also illegal to give alcohol to anyone under the age of 18 on private property, even in homes, without permission from the young person’s parent or legal guardian.
  • It is legal to supply people under 18 with alcohol if you’re their legal guardian.
  • Anyone who supplies alcohol (both adults and minors), to someone who is under 18 years of age can be charged and fined.

Find out about the laws that apply in your state or territory.

  1. Spear LP. Effects of adolescent alcohol consumption on the brain and behaviour.(Report). Nature Reviews Neuroscience [Internet]. 2018 [16.11.2022]; 19(4):[197(18) p.].
  2. Guerri C, Pascual Ma. Impact of neuroimmune activation induced by alcohol or drug abuse on adolescent brain development. International Journal of Developmental Neuroscience [Internet]. 2019 [17.10.2022]; 77(1):[89-98 pp.].