Alcohol Guidelines for Young People

The safest option for young people under 18 years of age is no alcohol. Damage can occur to their developing brain, and can increase their risk of undertaking dangerous behaviours. These behaviours can lead to short and long term damages to their physical and mental health.

The below guidelines are based on the best available evidence about alcohol-related harm and young people.

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) advise that:

  • Not drinking alcohol is the safest choice for young people under 18 years.
  • Children under 15 years of age are at greatest risk of harm from drinking, and for this reason, not drinking alcohol is especially important.
  • For young people aged 15 to 17, despite pressures they may experience from friends, delay the initiation of drinking alcohol for as long as possible. [1]

It is important that no one supplies young people aged under 18 years with alcohol, as it can increase their risk of experiencing short and long-term harms, including impact on their developing brain.

Evidence has shown alcohol consumption is harmful to the developing brain, particularly the area of the brain responsible for rational thinking. Damage to this part of the brain during its development can lead to:

  • learning difficulties;
  • memory problems;
  • mental health issues; and
  • other problems later in life such as alcohol dependence [2]

Drinking alcohol can lead to damage in the future. Drinking alcohol from an early age can contribute to a range of health impacts and harms from antisocial behaviour and injury through to violence and even suicide. [2] Studies have shown that young people who were drinking by 14 years of age were more likely to experience alcohol dependence than those who did not drink until they were over 21 years old. [3]

[1] National Health and Medical Research Council. (2009). Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol: Commonwealth of Australia. Available at

[2] Department for Communities Office for Youth and Drug and Alcohol Office. (2007). Young People and Alcohol. Government of Western Australia.

[3] Hingson, R., Heeren, T. & Winter, M. (2006). Age at drinking onset and alcohol dependence: age at onset, duration, and severity. Archive Pediatric Adolescent Medicine. 160:739–46.