Know the Facts

Helping you make informed decisions about your drinking

Alcohol and Young People

Impact of alcohol on the developing brain

The adult brain does not fully mature until around age 25, and the last parts of the brain to mature are those that control things like decision-making, impulsivity, attention, and problem-solving. The very abilities that drinking alcohol has direct detrimental effects on! Despite this, the legal age for drinking in Australia is 18, and some young people try alcohol even before that. Drinking alcohol while the brain is still maturing can have some important impacts in the long term, including:

  • Difficulty controlling urges and impulses. Individuals may act without considering the consequences, become violent, or engage in other behaviours that get them into trouble with the law.
  • Poor ability to make decisions and use judgement, particularly in regards to judging risk (e.g., diving into water of unknown depth, continuing an argument until it escalates to violence).
  • Learning difficulties and attention problems
  • Problems with regulating emotions, potentially leading to ongoing irritability and psychological problems such as depression and anxiety.

Minimising harm from alcohol use

The best way to minimise harm from alcohol use is to delay the initiation of drinking for as long as possible, especially for young people under the age of 18 who are more likely than older drinkers to engage in risky and antisocial behaviours. The National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia provides the following advice:

  • Children under 15 years of age are at the greatest risk of harm from drinking and so, for this age group, not drinking alcohol is especially important.
  • For young people aged 15-17 years, the safest option is to delay the initiation of drinking for as long as possible.

Sources

  • Casey, B. J., Giedd, J. N., & Thomas K. M. (2000). Structural and functional brain development and its relation to cognitive development. Biological Psychology, 54, 241-257.
  • Clark, D.B., Thatcher, D.L., & Tapert, S.F. (2008). Alcohol, psychological dysregulation, and adolescent brain development. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 32, 375-385.
  • King, E., Taylor, J., & Carroll, T. (2005). Alcohol consumption patterns among Australian 15-17 year olds from 2000 to 2004. Research and Marketing Group – Australian Government, Department of Health and Ageing.
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2011). Alcohol and the Developing Brain. Accessed from http://www.toosmarttostart.samhsa.gov/tweens/default.aspx on 27/01/2012