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In a recent study, nearly 1 in 3 15-16 year olds in Ireland said they had never drunk alcohol and nearly 7 in 10 had not been drunk in the previous 12 months.¹ The study also showed that heavy episodic drinking (6 or more standard drinks in one sitting) and drunkenness among 15-16 year olds have declined by around 30% in recent years.


Aside from the obvious problems of trying to train or compete with a hangover, alcohol affects endurance, muscle development and recovery. It affects the absorption of nutrients needed for energy metabolism and the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the muscles' source of energy. Alcohol can affect protein synthesis, reducing muscle build-up and cancelling out the benefits of a workout. Alcohol left in your system ‘the morning after’ increases the risk of cramp and affects coordination, reaction times and balance. Alcohol can also reduce testosterone, which is needed for muscle development and recovery, and B vitamins, which help repair the body after injury. Read more about alcohol and sports performance.

“Children learn to drink from the culture and context in which they live. When they enter into drinking, they do so in the same way as the rest of Irish people — in a fairly harmful manner,” says child and adolescent psychiatrist Bobby Smyth.¹ Many Irish teens are drinking too much, too soon and dangerously “We give ourselves permission to drink much larger quantities of alcohol than is acceptable in much of the rest of the world.” The fact that drinking heavily and getting drunk is ‘normal’ and ‘acceptable’ in Ireland doesn’t make it safe.


Girls and young women are at particular risk from drinking as they absorb more alcohol than boys and young men. As a result, it takes less alcohol to cause the same levels of damage to girls and young women, both in the short and long term.

There is evidence that adolescents who use alcohol are at increased risk of developing mental health difficulties including emotional problems.¹ Drinking alcohol can stop young people from developing the coping mechanisms that will help them to have good mental health later in life. Alcohol is a depressant drug, which can leave us feeling low in the short term, and can cause depression in the longer term. It can also make depression worse if you already have it.

Read more 

Alcohol and young people's mental health

Alcohol, suicide and self-harm

Building better mental health



Newbury-Birch et al, 2008. Impact of Alcohol Consumption on Young People: A Systematic Review of Published Reviews. Department for Children Schools and Families. Research Report DCSF-RR067.

It is illegal to buy alcohol for people under the age of 18. It is also illegal to give alcohol to anyone under the age of 18 in your house unless you have the consent (agreement) of their parents. If you are under 18 you cannot legally buy alcohol. It’s an offence to pretend to be 18 to buy or drink alcohol.

If a young people drinks alcohol on a school night, it's likely to affect their concentration and academic performance. Young people who regularly drink alcohol are twice as likely to miss school and get poor grades as those who don’t. Almost half of young people excluded from school in the UK are regular drinkers.¹


Drinking alcohol at a young age can cause problems: It can affect schoolwork and sports performance, make young people feel low or unable to cope, stop them sleeping properly, cause skin breakouts and weight gain. Drinking too much can affect relationships with family and friends. Long-term problems can include depression, heart disease, liver disease and several types of cancer.

Alcohol is involved in a large number of public order offences. Alcohol makes people act more carelessly, without thinking about the consequences – they may insult someone or start an argument, which could lead to a fight, they may trespass on someone else’s property or cause damage to it.

In an Irish study, 1 in 10 young people who had drunk alcohol had ended up in trouble with the police.¹ In a study of alcohol and drug misuse by young offenders, alcohol was the substance most linked to current offending for 6 in 10 girls and over 4 in 10 boys. Among these young offenders, most started to abuse substances (usually alcohol) at the age of 14, but a significant number (more than 1 in 10) started as young as 12.²

If a young person ends up with a criminal record it can damage their prospects for the rest of their life. Having a criminal record can exclude people from some jobs and, for some offences, prevent them from travelling abroad.

¹ You, Your Child and Alcohol, Public Health Agency, Northern Ireland.


Drinking alcohol means young people are more likely to do things they wouldn’t do sober. This can mean ‘going further’ sexually than they want to, getting intimate with someone they don’t really like or pressuring someone to do something they are not happy with. In a survey conducted in 40 Galway secondary schools, 35% of teenagers claimed that alcohol was a contributory factor in their first sexual intercourse.¹

Alcohol can also mean young people have sex without using contraception. In a UK study one in ten boys and around one in eight girls aged 15 to 16 had unsafe sex after drinking alcohol. This puts them at risk of sexual infections and unwanted pregnancy. The same research showed that a girl who drinks alcohol is more than twice as likely to have an unwanted pregnancy as a girl who doesn’t drink.2

¹ Emer Mac, Sex, Drugs and Alcohol: A Study of Teenage Behaviour in Galway City & County   Secondary Schools (1994).


Wells JE, Horwood LJ, Fergusson DM: Drinking patterns in mid-adolescence and psychosocial outcomes in late adolescence and early adulthood. Addiction. 2004, 99 (12): 1529-1541. 10.1111/j.1360-0443.2004.00918.x.

Zeigler DW, Wang CC, Yoast RA, Dickinson BD, McCaffree MA, Robinowitz CB, Sterling ML: The neurocognitive effects of alcohol on adolescents and college students. Prev Med. 2005, 40: 23-32. 10.1016/j.ypmed.2004.04.044.

Teenage drinkers are 11 times more likely to suffer an unintentional injury than those who don’t drink.¹ Getting drunk can make you do dangerous things without thinking about the risks and slows your reactions and coordination, so you’re more likely to have an accident. Falls, drowning, road traffic accidents, head injuries, poisoning and burns are some of the injury risks linked to alcohol. A national study involving 2,500 patients in six major hospitals across the country found that over one in four (28%) of all injury attendances in the A&E departments were alcohol related.²

Alcohol causes or increases the risk of some of the biggest killers of 15-24 year olds like poisoning, accidents, car crashes, suicide and self-harm ²

¹  Professor Joe Barry, Medical Adviser to the National Drugs Strategy Team.

2 Hope A, Gill A, Costello G, Sheehan J, Brazil E, & Reid V. (2005). Alcohol and injuries in the accident and emergency department: A national perspective. Dublin: Health Promotion Unit, Department of Health and Children. 


Drinking alcohol while the brain is still developing can damage two key parts of the brain: the area responsible for logic, reasoning, self-regulation and judgement, and an area of the brain related to learning and memory. This damage can then impact on a young person’s thinking, functioning and behaviour in the long term.

Alcohol and the teenage brain.pdf (size 350.7 KB) - An article by Dr Helen McMonagle

The teenage years are a time when we learn about life – how to cope with problems and disappointments, how to interact with people and form relationships. When young people rely on alcohol in these situations, they can miss the chance to learn these skills and build the confidence and resilience that will help them to have good mental health and get over difficult times in their lives.

Teens are generally more likely than adults to make impulsive, emotional decisions without thinking about the consequences – The parts of the brain responsible for impulse control don’t fully mature until we’re in our mid-20s. Alcohol increases the chance of risky behaviour, as it lowers inhibitions, increases impulsiveness and makes decision-making worse.

Young people are more likely to hurt themselves or take their own lives after drinking

Alcohol is a factor in more than 1 in every 3 cases of deliberate self-harm and more than half of all completed suicides. Suicide is the leading cause of death among young Irish men aged 15-24.

A HSE report tells us that alcohol can make suicide more likely, “by increasing impulsivity, changing mood and deepening depression”.

One episode of heavy drinking can reduce inhibitions enough for a person to self-harm or act on suicidal thoughts.

Read more:

Alcohol and the teenage brain.pdf (size 350.7 KB) - An article by Dr Helen McMonagle

Being a teenager can be very stressful – trying to make sense of new experiences, handling exam pressure, starting romantic relationships, dealing with peer pressure, and trying to find your identity and place in the world can be tough, especially with social media recording and commenting on your every move. Adding alcohol to these situations can leave young people vulnerable to behaving in a risky way that can cause harm or lead to regrets, or to being exploited by others.

Alcohol can intensify the effects of some drugs. This includes both illegal drugs and prescribed medications, such as hayfever tablets, painkillers and drugs for mental health conditions like depression or ADHD. Whether you mix drink and drugs intentionally or by accident, it can lead to greater physical harm, more severe side-effects and increased impairment. For example, nausea and vomiting, headaches, drowsiness, dizziness, fainting, abnormal or unpredictable behaviour and loss of coordination. Alcohol can also stop prescribed medications from working properly. Read more about alcohol and other drugs.

The ‘good’ effects of alcohol - feeling uninhibited and happy – only happen when blood alcohol is fairly low. If you carry on drinking, the effects are mainly negative. People who are very drunk often end up loud and annoying, doing stupid things, sick, slumped in a corner or too ‘out of it’ to talk and have fun.

Talk to your kids about different drinks having different strengths and let them know what a standard drink is (a drink containing 10g of pure alcohol). Talk about how consuming even a small number of standard drinks can affect their judgement and explain what will happen as the level of alcohol in their blood rises. Read more about the effects of alcohol. Children also need to know that spirits are particularly harmful, as a small amount contains the same amount of alcohol as a much bigger drink of beer or cider. You could also talk about sweet-tasting drinks like alcopops, which don’t taste of alcohol and are easy to drink and the difficulty of judging the amount of alcohol in mixed drinks and drinks that other people give to them.

Alcohol acts like an anaesthetic on your central nervous system. Drinking to the point of drunkenness means judgement, self-control and reactions will be affected in a way that can put you at serious risk. You are likely to do things that you wouldn’t normally do or behave in a way that you may regret. Once the alcohol in your blood reaches a very high level, it causes unconsciousness, coma and death.

Although alcohol is an accepted and much celebrated part of our culture, it causes all kinds of harm – not just illness and addiction, but public order offences like fighting and robbery, road traffic accidents, domestic violence, personal relationship problems and mental health conditions like depression. There are almost twice as many deaths due to alcohol in Ireland as due to all other drugs combined.

Starting to drink alcohol early in life means young people are more likely to have problems later in life – The earlier you start to drink, the greater the risk of becoming dependent on alcohol and experiencing mental and physical health problems. There is also evidence that alcohol is a ‘gateway’ drug – that kids who start drinking at a young age are more likely to move on to other drugs.¹

¹ Kirby, T; Barry, A. E. (2012). "Alcohol as a gateway drug: A study of US 12th graders" (PDF). Journal of School Health. 82 (8): 371–9. doi:10.1111/j.1746-1561.2012.00712.x. PMID 22712674.

Contrary to what the media, drinks companies and lots of people would have us believe, alcohol is not an essential part of having fun, coping with hard times or relaxing. Relying on a substance to enjoy yourself, socialise or handle life’s ups and downs is not the best way and can be dangerous. Being your own person and having the confidence to do your own thing, develop your own interests and build real social and coping skills can make a huge difference to your future health and happiness.

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