When Young People Drink Alcohol

Compared to adults there can be a difference in the behaviour and side effects seen in teenagers when they drink alcohol because teenager’s brains are still developing which can result in negative effects in the short and long-term.


Short-term effects

When young people drink alcohol they can experience short-term effects. These can include:

1. General impairment of ability [1]

  • Impaired vision.
  • Slower response time.
  • Impaired thinking.
  • Find it harder to concentrate.
  • Poor coordination.

2. Increased risk taking [1,2]

  • May make a decision without thinking about the long term consequences, such as not considering other choices and choosing to do something that is considered fun or feels good.

3. Mood changes [1]

  • Feel more positive when their blood alcohol level first increases.
  • Feel depressed when their blood alcohol level decreases.


Long-term effects

There are long-term effects that can result from young people drinking alcohol,

  • Memory tasks.
  • Problem solving.
  • Visual and spatial skills [1,3]

Evidence has shown binge drinking can impact the white matter within the brain. White matter is responsible for passing information quickly through a nerve. [4]

It is recommended that for under 18’s, no alcohol is the safest choice.

Differences between young people and adults

  • Some research suggests that young people may be more vulnerable than adults to some of the effects of alcohol.
  • This is because young people’s bodies and minds are still developing, which can affect that impact that alcohol has on them.
  • For example, young people can be particularly affected by side effects related to learning and memory – known as a blackout. A blackout is the absence of memory following a bout of intoxication with no ability to retrieve it. [1,4] It results from having a high alcohol concentration in the brain centres that are responsible for short-term memory. [1,4] This can result in increasing the susceptibility of disrupting memory centres, [1] and can potentially cause long-term damage to the hippocampus. [4]

[1] White J. Adolescence, Alcohol and Brain Development, What is the impact on well-being and learning?  Drug and Alcohol Services: South Australia. [Presentation]

[2] Directorate for Education and Human Resources of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. (2013). Alcohol and your brain. Available at: http://sciencenetlinks.com/student-teacher-sheets/alcohol-and-your-brain/

[3] Bava, S., Tapert, S. (2010). Adolescent brain development and the risk for alcohol and other drug problems. Neuropsychology Review. 20(4):398-413.

[4] Hickie, I.B. & Whitwell, B.G. (2009). Alcohol and The Teenage Brain: Safest to keep them apart. Brain & Mind Research Institute: Sydney.