Why is alcohol harmful for young people?

Most of us probably know that drinking a lot of alcohol isn’t good for us. But what is less well known is why it’s more dangerous to drink when you’re young. Here are some of the biggest risks associated with drinking in your teens.


Alcohol damages your brain, whatever your age, but young people’s brains are more sensitive because the brain continues to develop until around the age of 25.

Even small amounts of alcohol have a negative effect on your judgement, memory, and reaction speeds. Body size plays a part, too. A small body contains less fluid with which to dilute the alcohol, which means that you will get drunk more quickly.  

“The brain isn’t fully developed until around the age of 25, which means young people’s brains are extra sensitive to the harmful effects of alcohol and drugs.”  

Lotfi Khemiri, Doctor of Medicine and addiction researcher, Karolinska Institute.


Young people often have an in-built urge to explore and take greater risks, which is both natural and, in many cases, a good thing. It’s how they test their limits, develop new skills, and build their self-esteem. But it also means that young people are more likely to take risks without thinking about the consequences, such as when they drink alcohol. Young people find it harder to realise that they’re getting drink, and can very easily get very drunk, very quickly. 

IT CAN DAMAGE THEIR SELF-ESTEEM. As if it weren’t enough that a teen’s body’s developing rapidly, it’s a delicate time for their personality, too. This is when much of their self-esteem develops – how they think about themselves, their sense of self worth, and their abilities.

If they feel unsure and are only comfortable doing some things, such as socialising and flirting, when they’ve been drinking, there’s a real risk that they will continue to get drunk to have the courage they need. Initially, they will feel that alcohol boosts their self confidence and makes things easier. But the effect is short term, and in the longer term, can be the exact opposite.  This can result in teenagers avoiding doing the sort of things they’d actually like to do, but don’t really feel they dare to – or make them do things more for other people’s sake than their own. 


Alcohol increases the risk of all sorts of accidents. Alcohol is involved in almost 6 out of every 10 cases of assault – either the perpetrator or the victim (or both) are intoxicated. Accidents involving falls, burns, or drowning are also more common when alcohol is involved.

Alcohol can cause serious problems in relationships, too. Surveys show that teenagers have gotten into fights, had sex that they’ve regretted, or been filmed or photographed in embarrassing or compromising situations.


The risk of an accident increases with a non-sober driver at the wheel, even when the amounts of alcohol involved are fairly small. More than one in every four people who died in road traffic accidents in 2020 did so in an alcohol-related accident. And even if your teenager isn’t the one driving, it’s important that they don’t ride with a driver who’s been drinking, too.

Around one in every 10 teenagers who drinks alcohol says that they’ve ridden with a drunk driver. Talk to your child – make it clear they should never do that. Does your child have a moped? Make sure they leave it at home if they’re going to a party. 


The vast majority of those who drink heavily in their teens cut down as they get older. But it’s easy to carry on the drinking habits that you establish during your teens into adulthood. It’s also more common for teenagers who drink heavily to try other substances, such as tobacco and cannabis.  

More to read about the same topic

Useful contacts and more info

It can sometimes be good to talk to someone who knows a bit more about teenagers and alcohol, or about anything else, for that matter.

If you want to do more

There’s a lot you can do to support and be there for teenagers. Maybe you can take part in night-time patrols, or make it easier for them to say “no”, or help promote a smarter approach to alcohol in some other way.

Other important topics to read about

When parents are not around

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